MONTGOMERY — Legislation that would establish new fines, fees, and regulations related to the vaping industry in Alabama wasn't voted on by the Senate after a lengthy discussion on the bill Thursday.
House Bill 319 (HB 319) by State Rep. Barbara Drummond (D-Mobile) and State Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) makes it illegal for retailers to sell all vape products to youth under 21, makes it illegal for youth under 21 to purchase, use and possess and transport all vaping products; requires all vape products to be placed in an area not accessible to individuals under 21, identifies and regulates the specialty retailers of electronic nicotine, and creates a tobacco licensing and compliance fund for tobacco and nicotine prevention, education and operational costs.
The bill is opposed by public health groups such as the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and the American Heart Association due to the legislation continuing to "allow the tobacco industry and its retailers to run rampant across Alabama," according to a letter from those groups and others sent to lawmakers on May 11.
The bill is supported by K-12 administrators wishing to stop students from using vapor products. "Vaping" is essentially an electronic cigarette that is an alternative to traditional forms of tobacco like cigarettes.
Gudger told reporters on Thursday, "there's different organizations and associations that are opposed to our anti-vaping bill for the fact that you have to be 100% all for what they want or nothing at all."
"Even though this anti-vaping bill helps diminish youth from vaping, they don't look at it the way we look at it," Gudger said. "They say if it has anything to do with nicotine or tobacco it's either 100% that they're against it or they're all for it if you're 100% totally non-tobacco. That's not reality. Our goal is to minimize as much as we can any youth that's active in vaping."
Under the legislation, manufacturers wishing to sell vaping products in Alabama would have to state in writing to the state under the penalty of perjury that the product does not contain any synthetic nicotine or "nicotine derived from a source other than tobacco."
Jon Roundy, a vape shop owner and chief information officer with Breathe Easier Alliance of Alabama, an advocacy group that represents vaping retailers and consumers, told 1819 News in an interview on Friday that the legislation as written unfairly burdens small vapor companies and "big tobacco continues to sell their products indiscriminately without facing similar restrictions."
"If this bill were to pass in its current state, I would be out of business in under ninety days and have no idea how I would pay back the federal (Economic Injury Disaster) loan I took out to save our company during (Covid-19)," Roundy said. "We purchased legal product during that time which the state will essentially make illegal. If they pass this, we'll go bankrupt."
Roundy said the "bill removes consumer choice."
"The state will lock this down to a group of people that is primarily big tobacco," Roundy said. "If you look at the registry as of today it is primarily big tobacco products that sit on it. My customers will lose all of their offerings and their freedom of choice and product and the state will essentially force Alabamians' hands to focus their purchasing back to big tobacco products that have been scientifically proven to be worse than the products that we're currently serving today."
According to a fiscal note on the legislation, the bill would increase personnel and inspection costs of the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) board by a minimum of $805,000 annually. Those costs would be offset by a minimum of $900,000 annually in new receipts to the Tobacco Licensing and Compliance Fund created by the bill for operational costs and prevention education. The funding would come from $50 one-time filing fees, $150 annual permit fees, and $50 transfer fees, receipts from new and increased fines, penalties, and fees levied by the legislation.
The bill would also increase revenue to the Public Safety Fund by a minimum of $300,000 annually from new permit fees in the legislation.
State Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) said on the Senate floor on Thursday he'd be voting against the bill until he gets more information.
"I've heard a little bit about this bill. In the nine years that I've been here I don't remember the American Cancer Society Action Network sending out an email to all of us and it says vote no on HB 319," Melson said. "Until I find out more information I'm going to have to vote against it. I don't know enough about this bill and what their concerns are to vote on it. The American Cancer Society…this isn't a quack organization. It's a good organization that does good work that we all know about. I'm just going to wait and I'll hear the arguments today, but this is pretty convincing to me to hold off."
The legislation was ultimately carried over at the call of the chair and could come up again on the Senate floor on Tuesday, the final day of the legislative session. The bill passed the House on May 16 by a margin of 100-1. State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) was the lone 'no' vote.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) told reporters on Thursday, "If we want to make changes to it, we certainly have enough time to make changes (and) have a vote (and) send it back to our colleagues in the House for them to approve and concur."
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email caleb.taylor@1819News.com.
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