Gov. Doug Ducey said he believes that banning flavored nicotine-laced vaping liquids may not be a good idea.
The governor told Capitol Media Services that he wants to keep these nicotine products out of the hands of teens. And state and local health officials have argued that many of the flavored products are designed to entice young people to vape even though they cannot purchase the product legally in Arizona until they are 18.
But Ducey said he’s not convinced that flavors like bubble gum and root beer are designed solely to attract children.
Ducey also is taking a wait-and-see attitude to the question of how old someone should have to be to purchase both vaping and tobacco products even as some Arizona communities are moving ahead and imposing a minimum age of 21.
The governor’s comments come as Alex Azar II, director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the Food and Drug Administration will come up with a plan to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and other liquid pods, other than tobacco flavor, from the market.
Some states are not waiting.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order earlier this month banning the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products both in stores and online. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo followed suit less than two weeks later.
“Manufacturers of fruit and candy-flavored e-cigarettes are intentionally and recklessly targeting young people, and today we’re taking action to put an end to it,” Cuomo said.
Ducey said his own Department of Health Services is trying its own approach to prevent youth vaping, citing its Facts over Flavor program which targets kids 9 through 13.
State health officials said that’s because youngsters are most likely to try their first cigarettes between ages 11 to 13. More to the point, they say that Arizona middle schools are finding that kids the same age also are vaping.
“We want to keep these products out of the hands of children,” Ducey said. But he worried a ban on flavored products may have unintended effects.
“I think there are some adults that enjoy these kinds of flavors,” he said.
“What I don’t want to do is take someone who is addicted (to nicotine), restrict them from finding a product and push them to the black market,” the governor continued. “So we’re going to have a measured approach.”
But the Facts over Flavor program appears to see the issue through a different lens.
In launching the program last year, Wayne Tormala, chief of the state health department’s Bureau of Tobacco and Chronic Disease, said he sees a direct link between flavored products and appeal to youth.
“When one of your most prolific sales of vape products goes to flavors called Fruity Pebbles, that’s hardly marketing to people my age,” said Tormala, who is in his 70s.
Then there’s the separate question of how old someone should be to purchase not just nicotine-laced vaping products but all forms of tobacco.
Current state law sets the minimum age at 18. But Cottonwood adopted an ordinance earlier this year restricting sales to those at least 21, with the Goodyear council acting along the same lines Monday night.
But other efforts, including in Pima County and Tucson, have stalled.
For the moment, the governor is content to let these decisions be made locally.
“I think that Goodyear can make the decision that they want that’s in favor of what they believe is best in terms of public health policy,” he said.
On one hand, Ducey said, he’d like “consistent policy across the state.” But the governor, who said he’s never smoked, is in no rush to enshrine that in state law, leaving it for now in the hands of local officials.
“I have no problem with anyone moving this age to 21,” Ducey said.
Earlier this year the House voted to raise the age of purchase of tobacco and vaping products to 21.
The Senate, however, found the wording of the bill unacceptable amid concerns by Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, that it included provisions to block cities and towns from enacting their own new rules on the sale and marketing of tobacco and vaping products.
But Carter’s own proposals for tighter restrictions on vaping also failed to clear the Legislature even though it would have left the minimum age at 18 but preserved the ability of local governments to have their own restrictions.