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Florida AG Sets Sights on Underage Vaping


Use of tobacco products among Florida’s youth is at an all-time low, but that good news is offset by significant increases in the number of children who vape. That’s spurring action from the state’s attorney general.

According to the 2019 Florida Youth Tobacco survey of about 11,000 high-school and middle-school students, 1.5% reported smoking tobacco cigarettes in the previous 30 days. But almost 17% reported using e-cigarette products in the previous 30 days – a more than 5 percent jump over the prior year.

“Government must act quickly and with purpose and with urgency anytime we see a rapid rise in addiction which turns into an epidemic,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody at a Tampa-area high school. “As a mother, I refuse to sit back and watch while our next generation becomes addicted to another nicotine product. And as attorney general, I refuse to do so.”

Under Florida law, it’s illegal to sell vaping products to anyone under the age of 18, but the Attorney General says underage vaping is out of control. Moody adds that her office will investigate 22 companies that sell vaping products, to look at how they’re marketing and selling them.

“We will focus on whether these companies intentionally targeted minors, whether their claims regarding health effects are based in reality,” said Moody. “And whether or not they are using [an] effective, online age verification process.”

The firms listed in the investigation are a mix of Florida-based and out-of-state companies. Among others, the list includes vaping-industry giant JUUL Labs.

Eight in 10 middle and high school students, contends Moody, say they have seen online ads for vaping products – which their manufacturers claim are intended for adults. But Moody says the user numbers tell a different story.

“One in four high school students now admit to vaping; though I suspect, as I have heard, you will learn that they say many of their friends – much more than one in four – are vaping,” Moody said. “Two-thirds of young persons don’t even know these products contain nicotine. They believe it is a harmless habit.”

Credit wlrn.org
Florida Attorney Gen. Ashley Moody

A report last April by the Florida Department of Health indicated that about 25% of high-school students in 2018 said they vaped. The industry has drawn heavy scrutiny this year, in part because of widespread use by minors of nicotine-delivering e-cigarettes.

“And we know that the use of nicotine can lead to other drugs, and we know that the developing brain is affected by the use of nicotine,” said the Attorney General. “And that is why we are acting with urgency, we are acting now, and we are not waiting for the federal government to get its act together in regulating these products any longer.”

In 2014, Florida’s legislature approved and then-Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill that banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors -- similar to the longstanding ban on sales of tobacco products to people under 18. Moody says she will not allow such companies to play “fast and loose” with the “precious lives” of Florida youth.

“And so, while this investigation will take time – because we will be thorough – in the meantime, understand that these products are not harmless,” said Moody. “They do contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals.”

In wrapping up her remarks, Attorney General Ashley Moody brought forth some personal experience.

“My husband lost all four of his grandparents to smoking-related disease,” Moody said. “And I understand that there are claims that these products might be better. But we cannot sit back and let our children be targets so that they will be addicted for the rest of their lives.”

Florida had 68 reported vaping-related illnesses as of a week ago Saturday, with the number increasing by 16 cases according to the state Department of Health. One vaping-related death has been reported in the Sunshine State.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.