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Effort To Treat Vaping Like Tobacco Revived In Arizona Legislature

A Republican lawmaker plans to revive her effort to treat vaping products like tobacco in Arizona.

Sen. Heather Carter (R-Cave Creek) announced Tuesday she’ll once again push a measure to raise the legal age at which someone can smoke tobacco to 21. And by amending state law to treat vaping products like tobacco, the same legal age would apply to vaping products, which educators say have become dangerously popular with school-age children.

Carter cited testimony by Cave Creek Unified School District Superintendent Debbi Burdick, who told reporters that vaping incidents are on the rise in her district’s middle and high schools.

Vaping products even have appeared at elementary schools, Burdick said.

“Our students think smoking cigarettes is extremely distasteful but do not understand that vaping, although considered cool and with enticing flavors, is even more dangerous than smoking a cigarette,” she said.

Carter’s legislation, which she plans to introduce at the start of Arizona’s legislative session in January, also would require retailers who sell vaping products to be licensed and subject to inspections. Those measures would pair with another bill expected to be brought by Sen. Martin Quezada (D-Phoenix) that would protect local regulations of tobacco and vaping products.

Municipalities like Cottonwood, Douglas and Flagstaff have adopted stricter regulations of tobacco and vaping products than lawmakers at the state level have approved.

For example, Cottonwood passed a 2016 ordinance that already limits the sale of tobacco or vaping products to anyone younger than 21.

Carter praised local lawmakers for passing regulations that state lawmakers have failed to adopt. But now is the time for legislators to act, even in the face of opposition from the vaping industry.

Carter’s legislative efforts this year failed to pass the House and were countered by an alternative proposal — backed by the vaping industry — that would have raised the legal age to purchase vaping products to 21.

But it also would have prevented local ordinances regulating the sale of tobacco and vaping products.

That’s unacceptable, Carter and Quezada said.

“It is already illegal for tobacco companies and their products to be advertised near these sites, and for very good reason,” Quezada said. “It only makes sense for us to enact these same restrictions for vaping products, which are the more popular option for our youth today.”

Carter said lawmakers should not let the vaping industry dictate a solution for a problem “they created.”

And to appeal to a broader base of lawmakers, Carter will drop a proposal to raise taxes on tobacco and vaping products from her new legislative proposal.

“This year we’re trying to move forward with the components of the package we put forth last year that really gathered traction and would still address the issue from a public health solution,” she said.

Vaping supporters who protested Carter’s Tuesday morning press conference remain skeptical of her effort, though they acknowledged common ground with the senator.

David Morris told reporters that vapers know the product isn’t safe for kids and agree it should be kept away from children.

“If the law was just 'we’re going to keep vaping out of the hands of children,' I would absolutely support that. The question is how it happens,” Morris said. “And unfortunately Heather Carter’s been unwilling to meet with us to work out a solution that’s actually effective.”

Protesters weren’t swayed by Carter’s promise that vaping products would still be accessible.

“Let me be perfectly clear for those of you who actually are legal consumers of vape products: Nothing in our public health solution will prevent legal aged adults from gaining access to and purchasing legal vape products,” she said.

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Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.