Dueling Vaping Bills Move Through Arizona Legislature

May 13, 2019

There are two competing tobacco and vaping regulation bills at the Arizona Legislature. The winning legislation may emerge soon.

Credit Lindsay Fox

  The Senate last week unanimously passed a bill championed by Republican Sen. Heather Carter of Cave Creek that would reclassify vaping products as tobacco and place them under the state's voter-approved Smoke-Free Arizona Act, which bars indoor tobacco use. Carter's plan is backed by health groups including the American Cancer Society and would bar online sales of vaping to minors.

The House refused to sign off on the bill, a requirement because Carter used a procedural move, so a conference committee had to approve the bill. It's now ready for a House vote.

Meanwhile, the competing proposal from fellow Republican Rep. John Allen could come up for a House vote this week with backing from the tobacco and vaping industry and retailers. Allen's bill raises the age to buy tobacco or vaping products to 21. But it also contains a clause barring cities and towns from further regulating tobacco or charging licensing fees to retailers.

Allen said he's tweaking his bill to get needed support and plans to set it for House debate Monday, although it was also set for debate last week. He won't provide details of the changes.

"That's part of negotiating, I don't do it in the press," Allen said Thursday before taking a swipe at Carter. "Oh, I'm sorry. I don't do it in the press — my seatmate does."

"I have taken part of the stakeholders group which she would not meet with and have crafted I think a much more workable solution," Allen said. "She is running the cancer society bill, and I am running a compromise bill. I have gotten the industry itself to say, 'We're going to make it harder to sell these products in Arizona.' "

Carter said she's heard a big change is coming that would strip out the move from 18 to 21 to buy tobacco products. That would leave the main provisions as the state pre-emption and regulating sales of vaping products, but not classifying them as tobacco products. She calls that a gaping hole in the legislation that would allow new vaping products to avoid regulation.

"This is exactly what Big Tobacco does," Carter said. "They want the next generation of products to be labeled tobacco."

The industry has pushed laws similar to Allen's in several states that contain pre-emption clauses, which bar tougher local tobacco and vaping regulation by municipalities.

Allen said pre-empting local regulation makes sense because tobacco and vaping is an issue of statewide concern. He said he specifically exempts local zoning rules from that provision in a planned amendment, allowing cities to expand no-sell areas near schools farther than the current 300-foot (91-meter) state standard. He said retailers, and not the tobacco and vaping industry, are leading the push.

"Tobacco is certainly at the table. But it's mostly the ma and pa stores that want to see this change," Allen said. "They don't want to be at the whims of a City Council that decided to raise the age to 65 and charge $900 for a permit to sell tobacco. They want to have a statewide system that gives clarity to this market - the retailers."

Allen's proposal is backed by vaping industry leader Juul and cigarette-maker Altria, as well as by a group of vaping store owners in Arizona called the Arizona Smoke Free Business Alliance.

A Juul spokesman said the company has led the industry in pushing for a minimum age of 21 for tobacco and vaping products and prefers the 21 age limit as a stand-alone bill.