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Alabama’s crackdown on vaping clouded by smoke over claims it helps ‘Big Tobacco’

Alabama lawmakers are reportedly considering legislation in their final days of the spring session to crack down on underage vaping.

The bill received unanimous support in the Alabama House, but it faces an uphill battle in the Alabama Senate as the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association have expressed doubts that the bill will curb underage vaping, according to AL.com. The associations argue that the bill would be a win for “Big Tobacco.”

“I have no (fear) for the Heart, Lung, or Cancer organizations,” Alabama Democratic state Sen. Vivian Figures said. 

Last year, Figures proposed similar legislation that failed to come to fruition. Now she has Democratic state Rep. Barbara Drummond on her side, who sponsored HB 65, which would increase fines for underage vaping and create permits to be renewed annually for Alabama’s distributors of e-cigarettes.  

Figures and Drummond want the legislation to move through the Senate, as it did in the House, to get to Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) before the legislative session ends in nine days. 

“I think the momentum for this bill is good,” Drummond said. “What we’ve seen over the past summer in Alabama is that more and more of our kids are getting either sick or are dying, and we don’t know what the long-term effects (of vaping) are to them. My overall goal is to make sure we safeguard the welfare of our young people.”

Drummond must convince other legislators to get on board with the legislation despite opposition from the ALA and the AHA, who say the restrictions on vaping would only help “Big Tobacco.” They are siding with e-cigarette companies, such as Juul Labs Inc., to oppose the legislation.

The AHA told the outlet it is opposed to the legislation because Alabama lawmakers should hold “Big Tobacco” accountable “instead of punishing our youth.”

“Unfortunately, Alabama continues to cater to Big Tobacco companies with legislation that benefits Big Tobacco and harms kids,” said Jada Shaffer, the senior government relations lead for the AHA in Alabama. “While pretending to address youth vaping, HB 65 gives Big Tobacco companies the monopoly on selling e-cigarettes through an unnecessary nicotine delivery system certification and directory, all while further victimizing Alabama’s youth through penalties.”

The new law would increase the penalties for those between the ages of 18 and 21 who are caught with an e-cigarette. The first violation would be a written warning, the second violation would be eight hours of community service, and the third violation would lead to a $100 fine. There would be “reasonable efforts” to notify the parents or legal guardians of children under the age of 18 who are caught with a vaping device. 

“Kids already have a lifetime of punishment with a nicotine addiction. They don’t deserve fines, community service, and suspension from schools,” Shaffer said.

The legislation would also implement a permit system for distributors of e-cigarettes for a $150 annual fee. The ALA said that the bill, however, repeals a state law limiting how close these stores can be to K-12 schools.

“This would allow the tobacco industry to continue preying on Alabama’s youth,” said Ashley Lyerly, the ALA’s senior director of advocacy for Alabama. Lyerly did, however, say the organization was in favor of the annual permit fee. 

Alabama has a higher-than-average rate of lung cancer and ranks in the top 10 states with the highest smoking rates as of 2022. Drummond said her focus remains on keeping underage people and children away from smoking.

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“The focus, for us, is to get children off of this addiction that is turning their brains and lungs into mush. This is the No. 1 problem in our school systems,” Drummond said. She added that she questioned the motives of the heart and lung associations. 

“So, yes, I question their motives. Their actions contradict what their goal is supposed to be, which is to save lives. And that has been my personal experience,” Drummond said.

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