Whitmer signs bill to ban sale of e-cigarettes to Michigan minors

Failure to define e-cigarettes as tobacco products sparks criticism

The teen vaping epidemic has made its mark in high schools.
The teen vaping epidemic has made its mark in high schools. (Copyright 2019 CNN)

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate bills 106 and 155 on Tuesday, making it illegal to sell e-cigarettes and other non-traditional tobacco products to minors.

In response to this signature, officials with the American Heart Association and partner organizations expressed disappointment, as they believe the legislation fails to define e-cigarettes as tobacco products. Altering that definition to include e-cigarettes, they project, would "protect Michigan's youth from the predatory practicties Big Tobacco utilizes to addict kids to e-cigarettes."

Whitmer herself has also criticized the bills' failure to address this distinction, citing how the title of "non-traditional nicotine products" could "muddy the water."

"SB 106 creates two new categories of nicotine products—"'vapor products' and 'alternative nicotine products'—and restricts youth access to them," Whitmer said. "In doing so, it separates e-cigarettes from the definition of tobacco products in a way that could be used to exempt these products from evidence based tobacco control."

According to the data provided in Whitmer's signing statement, in 2018 alone, 21 percent of American high school students and 5 percent of middle school students—children as young as 12—reported having used e-cigarettes or other vape products in the last 30 days. From 2017 to 2018, e-cigarette sales to high school students increased by 78 percent.

To prevent underage e-cigarette use, the American Heart Association suggests passing stricter regulations on these products, including financial disincentives, keeping them out of public spaces and restricting marketing directed specifically toward children.

Whitmer also proposed two additional steps past signing the bills: First, for the Department of Health and Human Services to work with the FDA to provide recommendations on how Michigan should regulate e-cigarettes and other tobacco products; and second, for the Department of Treasury to examine the DHHS findings and aid in the decision of whether the FDA's labeling of e-cigarettes to be tobacco products should also apply to Michigan's product distribution practices.

In addition, the American Heart Association would like to work with Whitmer to implement an increase in funding for the state’s tobacco prevention and cessation programs. The organization also would like to place a ban on flavors that only serve to attract youth and for a general increase in taxes on tobacco products.

Whitmer promised she was committed to protecting public health, and the most powerful way to do that, she said, is to keep nicotine out of the hands of children.

"Michigan is one step in the right direction by expressly banning sales of these products to minors, and one step in the wrong direction by creating special new categories that could be used to exempt e-cigarettes from evidence-based tobacco regulation," Whitmer said. "Let's not undo decades of successful tobacco control by letting waves of addictive tobacco-derived products flow unchecked and unmonitored into our state."

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