On September 4, Michigan became the first US state to ban flavored e-cigarettes statewide. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) ordered and officially announced the vaping ban Wednesday.
The move follows a finding by the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS) that youth vaping is a public health emergency. The idea is that the ban will curb teen vaping, and Governor Whitmer has directed the MDHHS to issue emergency rules prohibiting the sale of flavored vaping products containing nicotine, both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. MDHHS will also target any marketing for vaping products that characterizes them as “clean,” “healthy,” “safe,” or otherwise “harmless.”
The governor’s executive authority allows for a six-month vaping ban which can then be renewed. In a Wednesday morning interview, Whitmer told MSNBC that she hopes lawmakers in Michigan will turn the ban into a law.
Michigan vaping ban on flavored e-cigarettes
Based on her interview on MSNBC, Governor Whitmer’s chief complaint about the banned e-cigarette products was that they all use sweet flavors to disguise the taste of tobacco. Many of the flavors, such as “bubble gum” and “mango” seem to appeal especially to younger people. The ban also applies to menthol and mint vaping products.
The MDHHS has 30 days to develop and issue rules based on the governor’s order. In the six months leading up to the first renewal date, the MDHHS will work to create permanent regulations based on the ban. The governor has even signaled that any attempts on the part of the legislature to block those rules will be met with a veto.
Unfortunately, this ban comes at a time when prohibition of cannabis products and the resulting black market for them has been causing serious health risks for everyone who vapes. In fact, the panic surrounding this ban has to do with the mysterious illnesses some teen vapers seem to be falling victim to—illnesses which all reliable evidence seems to indicate arise from using black market products.
Banning flavored e-cigarettes: an overreach?
San Francisco already took the step of banning the sale and distribution of all e-cigarettes in June. That ban will go into effect in 2020. Boulder, Colorado passed a similar ban last week.
Like the Michigan vaping ban, both have been worrisome to many small business owners.
“This shameless attempt at backdoor prohibition will close down several hundred Michigan small businesses and could send tens of thousands of ex-smokers back to deadly combustible cigarettes,” said Greg Conley, president of the consumer group American Vaping Association, in a statement.
The bans are also worrying vapers, especially those who vape to avoid smoking traditional cigarettes.
“These businesses and their customers will not go down without a fight,” Conley continued in the statement. “We look forward to supporting the lawsuits that now appear necessary to protect the right of adults to access these harm reduction products.”
Vaping advocates admit that the long-term effects of vaping e-cigarettes are not totally understood, and there may be risks from vaping flavored products. However, they also argue that vaping is safer than traditional smoking. We already know that smoking cigarettes causes more than 480,000 deaths annually in the US.
And while lawmakers and citizens alike may well be concerned about teens picking up vaping and then even smoking, given that e-cigarettes are essential to a harm reduction strategy for millions of smokers, the Michigan vaping ban feels like an overreach by the governor to many.
“In this country, laws are made by legislators, not governors desperate for press attention,” Conley remarks in the statement. “Anyone who fears the prospect of an out of control government should be appalled by this attempt by the executive branch to unilaterally ban an adult product.”
This is the reason for the centrality of flavors in this debate. Certain parents and anti-vaping advocates claim that marketing to teens is the only real explanation for flavors like “fruit loops” or crème.
However, vapers argue that they are motivating and rewarding in the fight to stop smoking. (And anyone whose partner has asked them to quit smoking because of their breath can probably relate to wanting a mint-flavored e-cigarette option.)
It will be up to lawmakers to determine where the line lies.