PHOENIX — Undeterred by defeat earlier this year, a state senator is launching a new bid to regulate vaping products the same as tobacco, and to raise the age to use those products and tobacco to 21.
At a news conference Tuesday at the Capitol, Sen. Heather Carter and allies unveiled a multipoint plan designed to cut down on teen vaping. Aside from the higher age requirement, it also would license retailers who sell both tobacco and vaping products.
A separate measure being pushed by Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, would subject advertising for vaping products to the same laws that govern cigarettes, meaning no billboards or other promotion near schools and child care centers.
Carter, R-Cave Creek, acknowledged the provisions are very similar to legislation she managed to get through the Senate last year only to have fail in the House.
There, a majority of representatives sided with language backed by the industry and retailers that would have raised the age of use to 21 but with two crucial differences. It would not have subjected vaping products to the same restrictions as tobacco, including requirements for smoke-free areas. And it would have barred cities and towns from enacting regulations that were more stringent than state law.
That option, however, could not clear the Senate, leaving the state with no new vaping legislation.
But Carter said the landscape has changed in the past year.
“You may see a lot of people around with signs saying, ‘I vape, I vote,’” she said.
“Well, you know who votes, too? Parents,” Carter said. “You want to know who votes, too? Teachers, principals, people that are genuinely concerned about another generation getting addicted to nicotine.”
Carter said nothing in her proposal would affect adults’ ability to buy vaping products.
The legislation would, however, affect where they can use them: Existing laws that now prohibit smoking in public places, including restaurants and near the entrances of public buildings, would apply to vaping.
Carter’s proposal earlier this year was opposed by Altria, the company that makes Marlboros and Virginia Slims. It also is the company that has bought a stake in Juul Labs, a major manufacturer of vaping devices and liquids.
There was no immediate comment from anyone from Juul or Altria about the new proposal.
But there was immediate opposition from the Arizona Smoke Free Alliance, a group actually made up of vape shop owners and operators.
“She’s trying to define us as ‘tobacco’ even though there’s no tobacco in vaping products,” said Amanda Wheeler, the group’s executive director.
“There’s nicotine,” she acknowledged, but she said that can be derived from sources other than tobacco. And Wheeler said it’s wrong to put vaping and tobacco use under the same regulations.
“We are selling a nicotine alternative to adult smokers who are addicted to combustible cigarettes that kill 50 percent of their users,” she said. “We’re selling them a 95 percent less harmful product to get off of a product that has a 50 percent chance of killing them.”
Wheeler said that the retailers she represents are less likely to sell to minors than other places where vaping products can be sold, including grocery stores and gas stations. And she said her organization would support licensing of retailers, saying that will help identify shops that do not comply with state laws.
But a big objection remains the idea of letting local communities enact their own regulations on smoking and vaping.
“If we’re going to get serious about this teen vaping issue and preventing minor access, we need serious statewide laws,” Wheeler said. “We don’t need every little city and county in the state making their own versions of the law.”
Carter said keeping local options is non-negotiable.
“If you look nationwide, the real tobacco control policies started at the local level,” she said. That, Carter said, is true in Arizona, citing ordinances in Tucson, Goodyear, Cottonwood and other cities that already raised the smoking age and, in some cases, already require licensing of retailers.
Quezada said any measure enacted by the Legislature should be a “floor,” with local officials given free rein to adopt additional restrictions their constituents want.
The approach has the support of Debbi Burdick, superintendent of the Cave Creek Unified School District.
She said the problem has become particularly acute in the past three years with the wide availability of products from Juul, with students vaping in the bathrooms. Burdick said the fallout from that extends beyond the students who are inhaling.
“Our high school students were not going into the bathroom in fear that someone may be vaping and they might be suspected of also vaping,” she said. “Some said they wouldn’t drink any liquid during the school day so they wouldn’t have to use the bathroom.”
Burdick said “vape detectors” did not work and there are too many restrooms spread out over the campus for the three security guards and one resource officer to monitor.