Michigan judge suspends Gov. Whitmer’s ban on flavored e-cigarettes


Marc Slis, among the first vocal critics of the flavored vaping products ban, said he’ll reopen his store immediately. (Bridge photo by Adam Johnson)

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Michigan’s ban on flavored vaping products may be headed to the state Supreme Court, after a judge on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction to vape store owners.

In approving the suspension Tuesday, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens said the owner of an Upper Peninsula vape shop and a West Michigan e-cigarette supplier in Saginaw had shown they would suffer irreparable harm under the state’s new ban on flavored e-cigarettes and other products.

“This means so much, I don’t know what to say,” said Marc Slis, owner of 906 Vapor in Houghton. 

Less than an hour after hearing the news of the decision, Slis said he was heading back to his shuttered shop to reopen it immediately.

But long term, he said, the decision allows a more thoughtful approach to making sure that vaping products don’t fall into the wrong hands.

“This means we have the time now to pursue sensible regulation, which was a goal of ours to begin with,” Slis said.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced plans to ban flavoring in e-cigarettes containing nicotine Sept. 4 after the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency

Vaping products

Michigan’s top doctor declared youth vaping a public health emergency in September, and the ensuing ban applied to vaping products containing nicotine. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

The move made Michigan the first in the United States to announce such a ban, and days later, the Trump administration called for a similar ban by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Other states have followed suit.

Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nesse  vowed to take the issue to the Michigan Supreme Court, and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, called the decision "deeply concerning."

“This decision is wrong," the governor said in a prepared statement.  "It misreads the law and sets a dangerous precedent of a court second-guessing the expert judgment of public health officials dealing with a crisis. The explosive increase in youth vaping is a public health emergency, and we must do everything we can to protect our kids from its harmful effects.

Vaping rates have surged across the United States and in Michigan schools. Data showed vaping rates rose 30 percent in some Michigan districts and more than doubled in others between the 2015-16 and 2017-18 school years. In December, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared vaping among youth an epidemic.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to investigate some 1,300 0 lung injury cases associated with the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products throughout the United States, including 26 deaths. Most of the patients reported using e-cigarette products with liquids that contain cannabinoid products, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

But others have pushed back, saying vaping — though not officially approved as a smoking cessation tool — has helped countless smokers quit smoking, which research suggests is much more harmful.

Owners and employees of Clean Cigarette wore shirts to court that underscored their view that vaping helps smokers quit a more dangerous product, combustible tobacco. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

During three days of hearings in courtrooms in Petoskey and in Detroit this month, Slis and owners and employees of Clean Cigarette, argued the ban would essentially destroy their businesses. 

Still pending in a separate court challenge, Mr. E-Liquid, a Grand Rapids manufacturer that employs about 75 people according to its court filings, has argued that the ban would force it out of business. The case is in front of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker of Michigan’s Western District Court.

In the Michigan Court of Claims, Slis testified that he had to close his doors, unable to sell his inventory, which has a shelf life of less than a year. Clean Cigarette testified it could no longer use its name because it ran afoul of advertising rules in the new ban. And both plaintiffs have argued that the ban will force former smokers back to traditional tobacco.

Slis attorney Kevin Blair also suggested that the ban was politically motivated and he questioned why Whitmer, Khaldun and others, circumvented normal the regular legislative process, opting for a rare emergency order instead. Plus, he noted Michigan had passed a state law just this summer prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes and other non-traditional nicotine products to minors.

Khaldun defended her declaration of a public health emergency and the ensuing rules, noting that she didn’t begin her role at MDHHS until April.

In deciding whether to halt the state’s ban on flavored vaping products, the Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens weighed arguments in public health, politics, and business. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

But Stephens agreed with Slis and Clean Cigarette, concluding that Slis and Clean Cigarette are likely to prevail in their case that the emergency rule is invalid under the Administrative Procedures Act.

The state health department “existed as a department and it was charged with protecting the public health and welfare long Dr. Khaldun’s appointment. Yet, DHHS delayed in taking action, despite having all of the information it now cites as necessary for doing so,” Stephens wrote.

She found that “the defendants’ lengthy period of inaction, combined with old data, undermines the emergency declaration in this case.”

Blair, of the Lansing-based law firm, Honigman, said he was “pleased with the result. We look forward to the full trial” to more permanently challenge the ban “on its merits.”

Stephens did not immediately schedule a next court date.

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J. Vanbevere
Wed, 10/16/2019 - 6:45am

This will be a good point for the stores to dump their stock before it is worthless to them.
The argument is that people will go back to harmful cigarettes...that have a ban against flavors as well.
You can vape without the flavors too.

Wed, 10/16/2019 - 7:58am

This news is good.

Every reasonable person believes that minors should not smoke or use e-cigarettes. However, we should have learned by now that simple prohibition never works. In this case, by making the unregulated black market larger, a ban could possibly lead to worse, unforeseen problems. Instead, we need a more progressive approach to the problem of youth vaping. For example, we probably need better regulations about labeling and product inspection, balanced with appropriate revenue streams from selling these products.

Watching this knee-jerk, reactionary approach by this administration (and other leaders), it is also apparent that we need our leaders to be better informed about the products that require regulation.

J. Vanbevere
Wed, 10/16/2019 - 9:08am

The reactionary move would be to equate a ban on flavored vaping liquid to a ban on vaping itself. This IS better regulation.

Wed, 10/16/2019 - 10:13am

Kids are going to do something, sometime in there lives illegally. Not all but alot. So, you believe removing flavor vapes will stop them? Not a chance, I do know that Big tobacco was the 4th main supporter for the Governor. Follow the money.
It's the cheap china gas station e-cigs that are the problem. Again, quit punishing the good and rewarding the bad.

Agnosticrat 2.0
Wed, 10/16/2019 - 11:26am

Let's do away with stop signs because some people will run them.

Wed, 10/16/2019 - 4:35pm

It's hard to feel sorry for failing businesses. Maybe pick a business that doesn't kill people? The buzz is e-cigs are for adults who want to stop smoking traditional cigarettes but most still contain nicotine, especially Juul, which only prolongs the addiction. That's why the FDA has not approved them as a cessation device. Nicotine is a highly addictive drug and there is no safe level of use.

Thu, 10/17/2019 - 8:44am

Aside from the owner himself, 906 Vapor in Houghton employs a total of ONE person (per the Free Press's article on this matter). Folks are acting like this ban was going to put thousands of workers on the street. It is wild that the judge determined the interests of the businesses outweigh the state's interest in preventing youth from using these products. But, we do believe in profits before people as a society, am I right?

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 4:45pm

what does closing vape stores have to do with covip-19, nothing it's whitmer's personal goal.
“This decision is wrong," the governor said in a prepared statement. "It misreads the law and sets a dangerous precedent of a court second-guessing the expert judgment of public health officials dealing with a crisis. The explosive increase in youth vaping is a public health emergency, and we must do everything we can to protect our kids from its harmful effects.