Here’s what you need to know.
Why the ban?
The Democratic governor said she was moving to protect Michigan children by ordering the state Department of Health and Human Services to issue emergency rules banning the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products in stores and online.
The order, which Whitmer spokespeople told Bridge will be filed within the next few weeks, will be effective immediately but gives stores 30 days to remove the products from shelves. The rules don’t ban tobacco-flavored electronic cigarettes but forbid advertising that markets them as “clean,” “safe” or “healthy,” according to the governor’s press release.
- Related: Michigan becomes the first state in U.S. to ban flavored vaping products
- Related: Vaping may be bad for teens. But will Michigan’s ban hurt smokers trying to quit?
What’s the problem?
Whitmer’s move follows a spate of 215 mysterious lung illnesses nationwide, including six in Michigan, that have landed e-cigarette users in emergency rooms. The ban comes amid increased concern that manufacturers are hooking a new generation of young people to nicotine by flavoring e-cigarettes like candy or sweets. A report issued this year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found 1 in 5 high-schoolers had vaped in the past month, a 78 percent increase from 2017 to 3.05 million students. Usage increased 48 percent in the same period among middle-schoolers, 1 in 20 of whom had vaped in the past month, according to the report.
Isn’t the sale of e-cigarettes to youths already illegal?
Yes. Just three months ago, Whitmer signed a law banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors in Michigan.
Also, the FDA issued national guidelines last year prohibiting the sale of most sweet flavored e-cigarettes in stores frequented by those 18 and younger.
But there were problems with both state and federal efforts. Statewide, health officials had urged Whitmer to veto the bill because it didn’t define e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, and advocates feared that would create a loophole exempting them from more stringent regulation.
The federal guidelines don’t ban the sale of e-cigarette flavors like mint, nor do they extend to the sale of vaping products online or forbid the possession of the products by youths.
Is Whitmer’s ban legal?
The courts may decide, but early indications are that state law supports the move.
A trade group, the American Vaping Association, announced it may challenge the order in court. Last year, New York’s state health department moved to enact a similar ban, but rescinded it amid concerns that only state legislators, not the executive office of government, could forbid the sale of such a product.
Michael Ong, professor of Medicine and Health Policy and Management at UCLA, told Bridge that industry proponents — including the vaping industry and traditional tobacco companies — have been the major drivers of legal challenges to restrictions on flavored vaping, and may choose to get involved in fighting the Michigan ban.
“In terms of restrictions on flavors, the tobacco industry has been adamant about protecting mint and menthol flavors from being regulated,” Ong said.
Some state Republican leaders not only haven’t contested Whitmer’s ban but indicated their support on Wednesday, suggesting that any pushback could come in court, not from the Republican-majority Michigan Legislature.
“The governor is well within her authority to act in this way and is not required to seek consultation nor provide notice to the legislature,” Amber McCann, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey told Bridge via email Wednesday.
“The majority leader shares the governor’s concerns about the impact of these products on young people.”
Whitmer’s ban coincided with her administration declaring vaping among youths a public health emergency. The Michigan Public Health Code gives the state Department of Health and Human Services authority to create rules that “safeguard properly the public health (and) prevent the spread of diseases.”
The order promised by Whitmer is to last for six months and can be renewed for another six months.
Wait. I thought e-cigarettes are safe?
Safer than cigarettes? Almost certainly. Than not smoking? Not at all.
E-cigarettes have flooded the market faster than science has had a chance to study their health impact. But new studies are quickly emerging warning about their impact, particularly among youths.
E-cigarettes work by heating nicotine to create an aerosol, rather than burning tobacco. Johns Hopkins University research found that traditional cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic. E-cigarettes also have toxic chemicals, but not that many, according to the research.
But e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in stronger doses than typical cigarettes and have been linked to seizures, cardiovascular problems and lung ailments.
Some experts believe vaping is as addictive as regular cigarettes, prompting fears that decades of progress in cutting smoking rates – one of the great public health achievements of the past 50 years – will be reversed.
Since 1965, the national smoking rate has dropped from 42 percent to 15 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even so, smoking-related illnesses still cost more than $300 billion per year in medical care and lost productivity, according to the CDC.
Last year, Britain’s public health ministry launched a campaign to encourage smokers to switch to e-cigarettes, proclaiming that vaping is 95 percent less harmful and nearly two-thirds of smokers quit through e-cigarettes and nicotine replacement.
Not all agree. Ong of UCLA said using flavored e-cigarettes are “probably not going to lead to cessation overall” in smoking rates and encourages new users to begin using nicotine.
“Until there’s a better way forward, this is a situation where it’s important to have a precautionary principle in place,” Ong said.
Who supports it and who opposes it?
Shirkey and the chairs of the Michigan House and Senate health policy committees, Rep. Hank Vaupel of Fowlerville and Sen. Curtis VanderWall of Ludington, said they share Whitmer’s concern about the impact of flavored products on young people.
“Vaping has become oriented towards children more than what we ever expected it to be, and I have a concern with that,” VanderWall said. While he would have preferred she loop in the Legislature ahead of time, “I appreciate what the governor’s done and her stance on this.”
Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, told Bridge Wednesday he is “disappointed” the governor didn’t include the Legislature in policy planning, though he does not contest the ban is legally viable.
“Once again, she’s going around the legislature to write policy,” he said.
Several Democratic lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Christine Greig of Farmington Hills, also voiced support, along with numerous state and national health organizations. Among them: the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, the Michigan Osteopathic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association and its Michigan affiliate, the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
A spokesman for JUUL, a leading vape company, told Bridge via email that it supports a ban on flavors that appeal to kids such as fruit and bubblegum.
“There is simply no place for kid-appealing flavors in the marketplace,” the statement said. However, the company opposes including mint and menthol in the ban because those flavors encourage adult smokers to switch to vaping from regular cigarettes.
Washington D.C.-based conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks said Wednesday the move was “a huge misstep for public health,” arguing it restricts access to products that can help reduce the use of tobacco.
The American Vaping Association called the ban a “shameless attempt at backdoor prohibition.”
How would the ban impact Michigan retailers and other businesses?
It’s hard to tell. The American Vaping Association said the ban “will close down several hundred Michigan small businesses.”
A spokesperson for the Michigan Retailers Association said its members were “caught off guard by the governor’s order,” and are looking for more information about what retailers should do with their current vape inventory.
Other business groups, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Association of Michigan and Business Leaders for Michigan, did not immediately respond to request for comment Wednesday.