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Critics rip Michigan vaping ban, citing harm to smokers and vape shops

flavored e-cigarettes

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed ban on flavored vaping products came under fire Thursday -‒ with a state lawmaker vowing to fight it, saying he worried about adults who use the products to quit smoking and about small businesses that rely on vaping sales. 

Rep. Beau LaFave, a Republican from Iron Mountain, said he has requested the Legislative Services Bureau to draw up bill language to stop the governor’s ban. It’s unclear what kind of teeth the bill would have since it would be subject to gubernatorial veto.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure you can let your daughter go to college and keep your vape shop open,” LaFave told a 55-year-old father of three and owner of an Upper Peninsula vape shop at a hearing of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee.

“These rules are going to kill small business owners, and it cannot (be allowed to take effect for) six minutes, let alone six months,” LaFave said.

Whitmer last week called for a ban flavored e-cigarettes and other vaping products with nicotine amid reports of hundreds of hospitalizations across the United States, including six in Michigan, from respiratory illnesses linked to vaping. Six people have died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You won’t just be banning flavors, you will be banning a life-saving industry from this state”
— Marc Slis, owner of the 906 Vapor shop in Hancock

Whitmer’s action followed the declaration of a public health emergency by the state’s top doctor, Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. She told committee members Thursday the safety of e-cigarettes and other vaping products isn’t clear amid “explosive” growth in use among teens.

Michigan was the first state to propose such a ban. On Wednesday, the Trump administration moved to ban flavored vaping products nationwide as well. Earlier this year, Whitmer signed a bill that gained bipartisan support banning the sale of nicotine-containing vaping products to minors.

“Michigan is leading the effort nationwide to protect young people,” Khaldun told the committee Thursday.

The state’s declaration of a public health emergency allows the ban to take effect for six months once its language if approved by the Michigan Secretary of State. The state could renew the ban for another six months, but it would need legislative approval to extend it beyond that period.

The state’s core concern is that vaping provides youth a gateway to traditional cigarettes ‒ a worry underscored by a study released this week on flavored vaping by the American Heart Association, Khaldun told committee members Thursday. 

Nationally, 20.8 percent of high-school students and 4.8 percent of middle-school students in 2018 reported vaping within a month of being surveyed, a startling increase from 2017 when 11.7 percent of high school students and 3.3 percent of middle-school students reported vaping, according to a report  by the CDC.

“We’re having non-fully reasonable people getting an addiction which they are then carrying on with them for the rest of their lives,” State Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, said, referencing adolescent users whose brains are still developing.

But critics see the ban from the other end of addiction ‒ adult smokers turn to vaping to step away from combustible tobacco.

Taking the products off the shelf altogether would remove a critical tool for adult smokers who use flavored vaping to quit cigarettes, said Rep. Michael Webber, R-Rochester Hills.

“Without some of these flavors, this will not be something that adults will want to do,” he said. “One of the comments is that [vaping] would just be gross.”

Guy Bentley, director of consumer freedom at Reason Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based liberterian think tank, agreed in his testimony.

“These flavors are now more often than not the first choice for smokers looking to make the switch to vaping,” he said. 

He predicted a ban on flavoring vaping products will lead to unsafe, black-market alternatives: “It will curtail supply, but it won’t curtail demand and you can get even worse problems.”

Marc Slis, owner of 906 Vapor, a vaping shop in Houghton in the Upper Peninsula, said he drove 501 miles to attend the hearing. Slis told lawmakers he had been a smoker for 41 years, including 30 years in which he tried “everything” to quit, including hypnosis and smoking cessation products in other countries.

But then he walked into a Houghton vape shop one day, striking up a conversation with the young employee.

“A 19-year old kid with a high-school education did what nobody else could do, what government couldn't do, what public health with the medical community couldn't do in 30 years — get me to quit smoking,” he said. 

“It didn't cost the state or the federal government a dime. It was a simple explanation. And it worked in simple product.” 

He went on to purchase the vape shop, which has helped support his family, including his daughter at nearby Michigan Technological University.

But more than that, Slis said, his vape shop is a “matter of life and death” for smokers who can finally quit with the use of vaping devices.

“They are adults. They’re desperate to quit … and they all use flavors. The flavors are absolutely necessary, and they are the key to quitting smoking,” he said.

Anong his customers, he said, is an 87-year-old grandmother who used a Fruity Pebbles cereal-flavored vaping product to quit.

“You won’t just be banning flavors, you will be banning a life-saving industry from this state, I guarantee,” Slis said. “Everybody who’s currently trying to quit will be forced back to smoking and trying to quit again…. That’s unforgivable.” 

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