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Arizona Senate approves crackdown on vaping products

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PHOENIX -- State senators approved their own crackdown on "vaping'' devices and liquids Tuesday, setting the stage for a fight with some House lawmakers who support an industry-backed bill.

HB 2357 as crafted by Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, effectively would classify vaping products in the same category as tobacco. That means they would be subject to the same laws and rules that govern not just the sale but also where people can use these devices.

More significant for some, it preserves the rights of cities and towns to impose their own stricter regulations.

Carter's bill does leave intact the current law which allows people to buy tobacco products -- and now vaping products -- at age 18. But it would still allow communities to adopt and keep their own ordinances which have raised the age for the purchase of tobacco and vaping products to 21.

Tuesday's 29-0 Senate vote comes as Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, is trying to line up the votes in the House for SB 1147.

That measure would set the minimum age statewide for tobacco possession at 21.

But it also would override many other local ordinances about how tobacco and vaping products could be sold. And it would allow only "reasonable'' zoning regulations about where sales can take place, such as close to schools, all provisions sought sought by retailers.

Perhaps the most significant -- at least for those who sell vaping devices -- is that it would leave them and the products they sell in a totally separate legal category from tobacco. And that exempts vaping products from voter-approved state laws that limit where people can -- and cannot -- smoke, such as in restaurants, movie theaters and near the entrances to buildings.

That's just fine with Allen.

"Smoking cigarettes has carcinogens in it,'' he said. "You don't want to expose other people to it.''

But he said that's not the case with vaping.

"Except for artificial flavoring and odors that are put in it, it's really just vapor with a little bit of nicotine that dissipates very quickly and not a risk to anybody else,'' Allen said. "It's not smoking.''

And Allen said if business owners want to ban vaping, they still can do that. It just wouldn't be prohibited by state law.

"It is private property,'' he said.

Carter has a different take, saying there's still research going on about what all is given off by the vaping products.

"I don't want to inhale that just as much as I don't want to inhale second-hand smoke,'' she said. "Why should I have to be subject to any of that stuff?''

Allen also contends there's a hidden motive behind the Carter bill to classify vaping products as tobacco

"She just wants to tax this,'' he said, noting that smokers now pay $2 a pack in state taxes on cigarettes.

Carter denies that's the case, pointing out there's nothing in her bill that deals with taxes. And she argued that such a levy would require amending an entirely separate section of state law than the health statutes at issue.

She sees the desire to keep vaping separate from tobacco as a move by the companies that manufacture both the devices and the liquids that go in them as a method of attracting teens who have been turned off to the traditional ideas of smoking. Carter said that is why some tobacco companies are now investors in the vaping industry, looking to attract new customers who will get hooked on the nicotine in the vaping liquids.

"The only way they stay in business is by addicting the next generation to whatever products they're going to hawk,'' she said.

Allen, however, said these are separate products and should be treated as such.

"To treat it just like smoking is just saying, 'Well, we don't like the way it looks, '' he said.

Carter, however, said she is not convinced that, even with raising the age for purchase to 21, that the penalties in Allen's bill are sufficient to keep retailers from selling to teens. She said existing laws dealing with tobacco allow courts to impose penalties of $500 for each violation of tobacco laws, with $5,000 fines for willful violations.

And Carter said Allen's bill is it's "full of loopholes.'' She said that creating a specific definition of vaping and devices that are subject to regulation frees the tobacco industry to market other forms of delivering doses of nicotine that are not within that definition.

Allen is hoping to get a House vote on his measure later this week. If he can get it out of there it goes to the Senate -- the same Senate that just approved Carter's version on a 29-0 margin.

And Carter's bill?

Monday's vote sends that measure to the House for review. But a spokesman for House Speaker Rusty Bowers said he is focused on budget negotiations "and hasn't yet decided if or when the House will consider HB 2357.''

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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