Tobacco 21 facing unlikely opponents

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Legislation that would raise the age to purchase cigarettes and e-cigarettes is now ready for a vote on the House floor, but the bill is still facing opposition from cannabis advocates, Libertarian lawmakers, and even some health advocates.

With one out of five teens in Florida vaping, lawmakers say the issue is now an epidemic.

“Just when you thought that smoking was on the decline, the tobacco companies came up with a product that targets our youth with e-cigarettes, vaping, and Juuls with cotton candy flavors,” said Representative Jackie Toledo.

To tackle the issue legislation moving in both chambers would raise the age to purchase tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21.

The House version would also require medical marijuana patients under the age of 21 to get a recommendation from a pediatrician to smoke their medicine. Cannabis patients say it would severely limit access.

“Are there enough pediatricians to serve all the minors in Florida? How far will patients have to travel? Will they overcharge due to the high demand?” said Tanya Bailey with Vets for Buds.

Health advocates take issue with a carve-out for tobacco and vaping for active duty military members under 21 included in both bills.

“Cancer doesn't discriminate based on your military record,” said Rivers Buford with the American Heart Association.

Some lawmakers who lean Libertarian oppose the age increase outright, saying it’s an infringement on civil liberties.

“At some juncture, people are an adult and in Florida, that age is 18. We should treat people like adults,” said Senator Jeff Brandes.

With some Republicans in opposition, bipartisan support will likely be needed.

House sponsors say there’s time to make changes.

“I think the military exemption, for example, will be open to change,” said Toledo.

Sponsors say that might also include changing the pediatrician recommendation for smokable medical marijuana to that of a regular doctor.

So far 11 states have passed some version of the Tobacco 21 Act. If Florida lawmakers are able to come to an agreement, Florida would become the 12th.