Arizona lawmaker proposes tobacco, vaping legislation
PHOENIX (AP) — Another fight over tobacco and vaping laws is headed for the Arizona Capitol next year after a Republican lawmaker said Tuesday she’ll try again to convince lawmakers to make it harder for teenagers to get their hands on cigarettes and vaping products.
Lawmakers this year debated competing bills, one backed by public health officials and the other by the tobacco industry, but couldn’t agree which one should move forward. Neither was approved.
Sen. Heather Carter, a Republican from North Phoenix, said her new legislation will seek to raise the age to buy tobacco or vaping products to 21 from 18. It also would classify vaping products as tobacco, making them subject to the same restrictions in place for smoking such as a ban on use indoors, and require retailers to get a license to sell them.
“We have spent decades keeping cigarettes out of the hands of kids,” Carter told reports after a news conference outside the Capitol. “We need to use those same policies to keep vaping products out of the hands of kids.”
After making progress in discouraging smoking among teens, schools and parents are now in a losing battle against vaping, Carter said. Vaping products generally include nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes.
Carter said she won’t seek to raise tobacco taxes to maximize her bill’s chances of success, though she’d vote for a tax hike if another bill reaches the floor.
Republicans have narrow majorities in both the House and Senate. Some in the GOP have taken a skeptical view of strict tobacco regulations.
Carter’s legislation last year cleared the Senate. But it died in the House, where lawmakers considered a separate bill that would have raised the smoking and vaping age to 21 but also would have prohibited cities and counties from enacting their own tobacco restrictions. The House legislation was supported by the industry and opposed by public health advocates.
Sen. Martin Quezada, a Democrat, said he’ll introduce legislation restricting the marketing of vaping products around schools and other places children congregate.
Katie Birtel, who co-owns the four-store chain GK’s Vapor Pub and makes e-liquids along with her husband, said vaping products help people quit smoking,
“We don’t want kids vaping,” Birtel said. “I have four kids of my own. They would get in enormous amounts of trouble, just like they would if they were drinking.”
She was among more than a dozen industry supporters who showed up to Carter’s news conference to represent the Arizona Smoke Free Business Alliance. They chanted “vaping saves lives,” arguing that it’s safer than smoking because it lacks many of the cancer-causing chemicals in cigarettes.
Public health advocates say vaping is still harmful and addictive.