State Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, introduced a bill last week that would allow the sale of 20mg or less of flavored nicotine in the state, undercutting the ban Gov. Gretchen Whitmer placed on flavored e-cigarettes in early September.
Whitmer declared the ban after Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, determined youth vaping was a public health emergency.
However, critics of the ban believe this will only push children and those who are trying to quit smoking to start smoking cigarettes again. In an interview with The Daily, Johnson said he agrees this is a problem for young people, but explained that he does not think this ban properly addresses the issue.
“The governor identified a legitimate problem that there is a youth vaping problem,” Johnson said. “Now as far as how do we address that, I don’t believe that her unilateral ban on flavored vapes is the right solution.”
Johnson said the ban ignores the true reason kids vape.
“What we found out is that kids aren’t really attracted to the flavors, they’re not opposed,” Johnson said. “But what they’re attracted to is the buzz that they’re gonna get from these nicotine products, and they are usually buying the highest nicotine level out there — usually around five to seven percent.”
After speaking with small shop vape owners, Johnson said the largest sales come from those trying to quit smoking, who typically buy products that contain nicotine levels at 2 percent or lower.
“If you allow for the low-level nicotine products that are flavored for e-cigarettes, the kids aren’t going to be gravitating towards them because they don’t get that same buzz,” Johnson said.
“The fact of the matter is that 65 percent of the kids are using mint-flavor vaping products,” Johnson said. “The reason they’re using mint is because that’s what the common flavor for is for those high-nicotine-level products.”
Rep. Beau LaFave, R-District 108, also introduced a bill that would overturn the ban. He spoke to The Daily about what his bill would do, primarily restricting Whitmer’s abilities to declare this as a health emergency.
“House Bill 4996 removes the governor’s ability to ban e-flavored nicotine products for adults in the state of Michigan and would remove her ability (to do so) under the emergency health crisis act,” LaFave said.
He said the emergency health crisis act was meant to address highly contagious illnesses.
“When we drafted the statute that gave the governor the ability to declare a state of emergency for emerging health crises, we were thinking about things such as bird flu or HIV or any other communicable disease that could theoretically spread as an epidemic,” LaFave said. “What (it’s) not designed for is things that the governor doesn’t like.”
LaFave said the ban does not even address the actual issues, which he says are marijuana vaping products that contain vitamin E.
“The governor’s ban does not affect the actual substances that are causing these illnesses,” LaFave said. “A study out of one of our sister states found that over 85 percent of those who reported illnesses using vaping products were using black market marijuana vaping products.”
LaFave told The Daily about a vape shop owner in Hope, Michigan, who has an 87-year-old customer who quit smoking cigarettes by vaping. He said her favorite flavor is Fruity Pebbles and believes she is an example of how flavored products are not geared toward children.
“That’s what got her to quit after 50 years of smoking,” LaFave said.
LSA junior Caroline Nelson said she supports Whitmer’s ban because she feels it is clearly aimed toward protecting the younger generations.
“I agree with it,” Nelson said. “I don’t think people should be selling things or smoking that are so fruity. It’s clearly targeted towards younger kids.”
Nelson said she used to vape, but after recent reports of vaping-related illnesses, she has tried to stop using the product.
“I started Juuling probably two years ago and I’m now starting to wean off,” Nelson said. “It’s so bad for you and all these articles are coming out and people are having seizures, it’s really scary.”
Nelson does not think Whitmer’s ban should be undercut in any way.
“It makes me think, ‘Who do these e-cigarette companies and Juul have in Congress that they’re paying to overturn (this ban)?’” Nelson said. “There’s no reason people should be pushing to allow people to smoke.”