PHOENIX — Undeterred by the defeat earlier this year, Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek is launching a new bid to regulate vaping products like tobacco and raise the age to use both to 21.
At a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol, Carter and allies unveiled a multi-point plan she said is 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.
And 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 acknowledged the provisions are very similar to legislation she managed to get through the Senate last year only to have it 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 continued. “You want to know who votes, too? Teachers, principals, people that are genuinely concerned about another generation getting addicted to nicotine.”
Carter said there’s no reason for adults to be concerned about her legislation, saying nothing in the proposal would affect their ability to buy vaping products.
It 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 to 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 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 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 those 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 eliminating local options are 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 have 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.
A key problem, she said, is students somehow do not equate vaping with smoking, finding the latter “extremely distasteful.”
“But (they) do not understand that that vaping, although considered cool and with enticing flavors, is even more dangerous than smoking cigarettes,” Burdick said.
That issue of flavors has gained national attention.
In September, President Trump said he was pursuing a plan to ban most flavored products. But that proposal came to a halt earlier this month amid pressure from advisers and others, with Trump now saying he wants to study the issue further.
The fight over Arizona legislation also has a political component.
Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, who hopes to move to the Senate, is challenging Carter in the Republican primary. Barto, who chairs the House Committee on Health and Human Services, backed the version favored by the industry.
Carter said her view of the issue is more reflective of what voters in her district think than those of Barto.
“When I am talking to them, they are greatly concerned about our kids vaping and vaping in schools,” she said. “They have asked me to continue to fight this effort and that’s what I’m going to do.”
And Carter took a slap at Barto for supporting the version favored by the industry and retailers.
“Why would you look to the same industry that caused the problem for the solution,” she said. “I think that is completely inappropriate and, more importantly, irresponsible.”