By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA – Buying cigarettes could get a little bit tougher for kids in Georgia under a new bill before the 2020 General Assembly.
Sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, Senate Bill 298 would raise Georgia’s legal minimum age to purchase tobacco and vaping products from age 18 to 21. It would also force e-cigarette companies to sanitize their advertising, barring them from calling their products kid-friendly names like “kandeez” or “bubble gum.”
The bill would also prohibit parents from purchasing tobacco and vaping products for their children. Doing so could land the purchaser a felony charge for third and subsequent offenses.
It’s the first Georgia bill targeting e-cigarettes and other vaping products filed in the 2020 legislative session. It would not ban flavored vaping cartridges, which some state lawmakers like House Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Sharon Cooper have threatened to do.
Vaping opponents argue the flavors and catchy names attract children, while supporters argue banning flavors could bankrupt small businesses that sell the nicotine-infused cartridges.
State legislatures in New Jersey and Massachusetts have passed flavor bans.
Unterman, R-Buford, said her bill aims to protect children, particularly from becoming addicted to nicotine via e-cigarettes. U.S. Food and Drug Administration research shows nearly 4 million middle and high school students used vaping products in 2018, a large increase from the prior year.
The measure follows 41 cases of vaping-related lung illness seen in Georgia by the state Department of Public Health as of this month. That includes six deaths.
“The purpose is to curb addiction among children,” Unterman said. “Unfortunately, with vaping, it might be a killer.”
Vaping supporters argue the activity is a safer alternative to smoking tobacco and can help addicted smokers kick the habit. Nearly 500,000 people die each year in the U.S. from tobacco-caused diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.