PHOENIX — Backers of competing proposals in the Arizona Legislature designed to boost regulation of vaping products are facing off over the issue.
On one side is legislation backed by the vaping and tobacco industries that would boost the legal age for buying cigarettes and vapor products to 21.
The proposal from Republican Rep. John Allen would ban vaping products at schools while forbidding cities and towns from enacting tougher rules on the industry.
Republican Sen. Heather Carter is backing the second proposal , which would redefine vapor products as tobacco falling under the voter-approved Smoke-Free Arizona Act, which bars indoor tobacco use.
"Nothing in my bill prevents a retailer from selling to adults but everything in my bill prevents retailers from selling to kids," Carter said regarding a complaint from the vaping industry. "We have to do everything we can to not accept the tobacco solution. We need to accept the public health solution."
Both proposals came in response to a surge in underage use of nicotine products through vaping devices.
Carter on Monday called Allen's proposal "smoke and mirrors" by big tobacco interests seeking to limit tougher local ordinances, known as pre-emption.
"What they're doing is trying to say they care about kids by supporting a weak increase in the age to 21 for tobacco and vaping products," Carter said. "But what they really want is pre-emption. And they're successful across the country."
Tory Roberg, a vaping industry lobbyist, said Allen's bill is great because it will curb access to vapor and tobacco products statewide.
"We're raising the age to 21. We'll pull the products from behind the counters. There will be no vending machine sales," said Roberg. "Anyone who actually reads the bill can understand we're trying to curb use access to our product."
The industry has pushed similar age 21 laws in several states that contain pre-emption clauses, which bar tougher local tobacco and vaping regulation.
Allen declined to comment. But Rep. T.J. Shope said he backs Allen's proposal and the pre-emption provision was his idea.
"The biggest thing for me is you have a willing group of businesses in vape shops across the state that are willing to be regulated under this," Shope said. "They're willing to invite regulation so that way they can keep the long arm and the eye of the state government off them, not feel as much heat. They want to be good neighbors."
Allen's proposal is backed by vaping industry leader Juul and cigarette-maker Altria, and also by a group of vaping store owners in Arizona called the Arizona Smoke Free Business Alliance.
"ASFA business owners generally entered this market to spread harm-reduction to smokers," Steve Johnson, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "A part of that is stopping new nicotine users."