TAMPA, Fla. — State Representative Jackie Toledo is filing a bill to raise the legal age to purchase vaping and tobacco products to 21, she announced in a press conference on Thursday.
The announcement comes as six people have recently died from a vaping-related lung illness, and just a day after President Trump announced that his administration is considering a ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.
"As a mother of five myself, with children in both middle school and high school, this issue is alarming and urgent. Precious lives are at stake," Rep. Toledo said. "I believe there is no debate here. Keeping our children safe is paramount and something everyone should support. Failure to do so will bring tragic consequences. How many more deaths will it take?"
Deaths have been reported in Illinois, Indiana, Oregon, Minnesota, California and Kansas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports as of Sept. 11, 380 confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping in 36 states, including Florida. The previous case count released by CDC of 450 was higher because it reported "possible" cases that were still under investigation by states. The current number includes only "confirmed" and "probable" cases reported by states to CDC after classification. A cause has not been identified, but reported cases have a history of using e-cigarettes.
The Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco Free Florida (BTFF), Bureau of Epidemiology, and Public Health Research tell ABC Action News they have "received several potential reports of illness, and are investigating these potential cases with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), county health departments and the Florida Poison Information Center Network."
Earlier this month, Michigan became the first state to ban flavored e-cigarettes, and this summer San Francisco became the first city to ban the sale of all e-cigarettes.
"As a physician who sees the harmful effects of smoking and e-cigarettes I’m very happy to see there are political and community leaders taking steps to keep our young people healthy and limit their exposure to these harmful products," said Dr. David Wein, the medical director of the Tampa General Hospital Emergency Department.
He joined other community members at Rep. Toledo's press conference announcing the proposal.
"We certainly won’t let Juul be the defining chapter it must be stopped not just for my children but for everyone’s children," said Erin NesSmith at the press conference.
She believes vaping led to her daughter's seizures. She said her daughter was introduced to vaping at age 14.
"It’s terrifying that something she could hide so easily that she kept from me for so long and was causing all these seizures," NesSmith said.
"In my mind, felt like something that was safe or okay to use," said her daughter, Ashlynn.
Ashlynn said it was an addiction that got worse. She said her number of seizures decreased when she stopped vaping, but after a relapse wound up back in the hospital. Since then, she said she's quit vaping and has been six weeks seizure free.
"We're hoping that I'm okay, but we don't know," Ashlynn said.
The Sarasota family joined a class action lawsuit filed in April against Juul Labs, Altria Group and Philip Morris USA and said they welcome the proposed bill.
"We really hope to honestly have everybody know how bad this is and what a huge epidemic this is on our kids and something has to be done about it. I don’t have all the answers for it but all I know is sharing my story is probably the best thing I can do right now," said NesSmith.
Juul Labs did not have a comment on this specific lawsuit, but a spokesperson shared these statements:
Statement on raising the age to 21+:
"We strongly support raising the purchasing age for all tobacco products, including vapor products, to 21 and have been actively supporting legislation to do this in states across the country and at the federal level. We cannot fulfill our goal to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in this country, if youth-use continues unabated. Tobacco 21 laws fight one of the largest contributors to this problem – sharing by legal-age peers – and they have been shown to dramatically reduce youth-use rates. That is why we will continue to work with lawmakers across the country to enact these effective policies."
Statement on US FDA announcement yesterday:
We strongly agree with the need for aggressive category-wide action on flavored products. We will fully comply with the final FDA policy when effective.
Statement on our efforts to combat underage use:
"JUUL Labs exists to help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes, which remain the leading cause of preventable death around the world. JUUL is an alternative that can help the 34 million adults in this country who still smoke. We do not want non-nicotine users to buy JUUL products, and are committed to preventing underage access to our products.
We have taken the most aggressive actions [newsroom.juul.com] of anyone in the industry to combat youth usage. We strongly advocate for Tobacco 21 legislation, we stopped the sale of non-tobacco and non-menthol based flavored JUULpods to our traditional retail store partners, enhanced our online age-verification process, strengthened our retailer compliance program with over 2,000 secret shopper visits per month, and shut down our Facebook and Instagram accounts while working constantly to remove inappropriate social media content generated by others on those platforms. Most recently [newsroom.juul.com], we announced the deployment of technology at retail stores that automatically restricts the sale of JUUL products until a government-issued ID is electronically scanned to verify age and ID validity. This technology also limits the amount of JUUL products that can be purchased to prevent reselling or sharing to those underage, and it will soon be mandatory for all JUUL product sales across the country."
ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska contributed to this story.