The veto was the right call: Gov. DeSantis and SB 810
Gov. DeSantis in a letter regarding the veto said, “this legislation would almost assuredly lead more people to resume smoking cigarettes, and it would drive others to the hazardous black market.” And he is right. Research has shown that banning an addictive product with high demand and few substitutes will shift supply to the illicit market, and that efforts to enforce a ban on such a product lead to violence.
The illicit market infrastructure already exists. After the outbreak of vaping-related lung illnesses last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admitted predominantly illicit THC vapes (not legal, nicotine products) were driving the surge in cases. The illicit supply chain is increasingly digital, meaning it is more difficult for law enforcement to penetrate. And the network is vast. Massachusetts is quickly learning from its flavored tobacco ban that meaningfully curtailing the trade is next to impossible.
For prohibition to have any teeth, it would necessarily involve breaking up these black-market channels. Otherwise, kids and adults will continue vaping, but doing so with only more dangerous products. Cracking down on the underground economy would require breaking up illegal online sources, a monumental task in and of itself, but there is no shortage of in-person sales as stories proliferate of dealers setting up shop out of their own cars or homes.
Policymakers should exercise caution regarding calls for prohibition and, by extension, for police to go into communities and enforce such a ban, during a time of nationwide protests against police violence. It is increasingly clear that prohibition will only increase mistrust between communities and police, as the kind of interactions necessary to curb black-market activity are the same ones that often spiral into violence.
Gov. DeSantis did the right thing by using his power of veto and more governors should follow his lead. In the coming months, we will see an actual real-time experiment between California—who banned flavored tobacco products last month—and Florida who decided to err on the side of personal choice, individual liberty, reduction in crime and harm reduction practices.