Big Tobacco is back in Tallahassee, pulling strings behind the scenes to make sure that kids in Florida will have easier access to tobacco.
You may be scratching your head and asking yourself how this can be possible, given that Florida has become a leader in tobacco prevention through its highly successful Tobacco Free Florida campaign.
It starts with the following fact: 85% of new tobacco users start between the ages of 12 and 17, before it is even legal to possess and use tobacco. Kids make the choice to use tobacco, not adults. Preventing kids from becoming addicted at a very young age is significantly the reducing market share of the tobacco industry.
Over the last 15 years, youth tobacco use in Florida has dropped to historic lows. This has been driven by a tobacco prevention program that is actually funded by penalties paid to Florida by the tobacco industry as part of an $11.7 billion dollar lawsuit settlement in 1997.
This has made the tobacco industry in Florida openly aggressive as it looks for ways to make the program less effective.
Which brings us to the 2014 Florida Legislative Session.
Bills introduced in both the House and Senate, designed to restrict the sale of electronic cigarettes and highly addictive liquid nicotine to minors, have quickly been railroaded by tobacco industry lobbyists to increase youth access to tobacco.
That’s right. Legislation initially designed to protect our children has been rewritten by the Tobacco Industry to make sure that more kids will have easier access to tobacco.
It all boils down to a few sentences in HB 169, scheduled for a House vote on April 22, which takes away the rights of local governments to regulate youth access to tobacco. In its current form, the bill will overturn 88 local ordinances requiring that tobacco products simply be placed behind the counter so that customers have to ask for them. Rolling back these rules will have no impact on the availability of tobacco for adults, but it will certainly help the industry get tobacco back into the hands of our children.
Adding to the complexity is that many House members are planning on voting for this bill even though they oppose it. They are being pressured by members of the House Leadership and may vote against their conscience. A future Speaker of the Florida House, who also owns Oliva Cigars, seems to have the biggest conflict of interest as he pushes for a favorable vote on this bill.
Couple this with the fact that there is one tobacco industry lobbyist for every two members of the Florida House, and you can see how special interests can create legislation that will sacrifice a generation of Florida’s kids.
There is still time to make a difference. Reach out to your Representatives, as well as members of the House Leadership, and voice your opposition to HB 169. We need to make sure that our legislators are representing the voters, not the bottom line of an industry that purposefully addicts kids.
Most importantly, make sure you remember how your Representative votes on HB 169, and whether they voted to protect your children or the tobacco industry.
Barry Hummel, Jr., MD, FAAP
Communication Director, Tobacco Prevention Network of Florida