Goes together like oil and vaping? Unusual Florida ballot measure links offshore drilling and e-cigarettes

Florida voters will be asked next month to decide on a curious combination of questions: Should the state ban offshore oil and gas drilling, and also end e-cigarette use in the workplace?

Both questions will appear on a single ballot measure next month proposing a state constitutional amendment.

These two seemingly unrelated issues – oil exploration and vaping – have stirred up equal parts anger and confusion among voters ever since the state’s Constitution Revision Commission earlier this year approved the measure for the ballot.

“Bundling these issues is mixing apples and oranges, and this decision, made without any public debate, could harm jobs, the state economy, tax revenues, and our long-term energy future,” Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica said in a statement at the time.

The combination of the two proposed bans into one ballot measure has come with little explanation from Florida’s CRC beyond Brecht Heuchan, chairman of the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee, telling local media that the sponsors of the different proposals worked together under the slogan of “clean air, clean water.” The proposed amendment advanced with little discussion in April.

Mica's group contends that the combination question "doesn't make sense," while warning that oil and gas development is critical for Florida's economy. “Voters should be able to make decisions on public health and its economic future separately,” his statement said.

Those in the state’s oil and gas industries also say the measure is redundant as Florida already has a statute on the books making it illegal to drill within the boundaries of the state's territorial seas. Many lawmakers in Florida, including outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott, also oppose plans by the Trump administration to permit oil and gas drilling in federal waters beyond the nation’s outer continental shelf — a jurisdictional term referring to the submerged territory sitting up to 10.36 statutory miles off the state’s western coast and three nautical miles off its eastern seaboard.

Bundling these issues is mixing apples and oranges, and this decision, made without any public debate, could harm jobs, the state economy, tax revenues, and our long-term energy future.

— David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council 

Environmental groups support the proposed amendment but say that if it passes in November, voters must continue to push for a ban on oil and gas drilling in both state and federal waters off the coast of Florida.

"It's only in Florida state waters which is three miles off the Atlantic coast and nine miles off the Gulf Coast,” Erin Handy, the field campaign manager for the environmental non-profit Oceana, told MyPanhandle.com. “The Deep Water Horizon rig that exploded in Louisiana state waters was over 200 miles away from the Florida coast and yet, the oil still reached.”

Both gubernatorial candidates in Florida – Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis – have voiced opposition to offshore drilling while on the campaign trail this year.

A recent poll conducted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce found Floridians are sharply divided over the amendment, with 50 percent of those surveyed ready to vote “Yes” and 34 percent planning to vote “No.” In Florida, it takes 60 percent approval for a constitutional amendment.

The vaping ban, meanwhile, is similar to one that prohibited smoking tobacco in the workplace, which was passed by 71 percent of voters in 2002.