Up in smoke: Michigan bans sales of flavored e-cigarettes for six months

Wednesday, September 4, 2019 - 3:53pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to issue emergency rules stopping the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products for six months starting Wednesday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to issue emergency rules stopping the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products for six months starting Wednesday. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

There’s a cloud on the horizon for flavored e-cigarettes in Michigan, and it definitely doesn’t smell like mangoes. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hit juuls across Michigan hard on Wednesday, declaring a statewide ban on flavored nicotine vaping products.

Whitmer called on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to issue emergency rules, banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes both in stores and online. The mandate also includes a ban on misleading marketing of vaping products that use terms like “clean” or “safe.” The ban will expire in six months, at which time Whitmer can decide to extend it. 

The ban makes Michigan the first state in the nation to bar the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. In a press release, Whitmer said she issued the order after Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health at MDHHS, found that youth vaping constituted a public health emergency. In recent weeks, health officials have been investigating an outbreak of vaping-related lung illnesses across the country.  

“As governor, my number one priority is keeping our kids safe,” Whitmer said. “And right now, companies selling vaping products are using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine and misleading claims to promote the belief that these products are safe. That ends today.”

Data from the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed a 78 percent spike in e-cigarette use among high school students between 2017 and 2018, with more than 3.6 million kids currently using them in 2018.

Whitmer also ordered the Michigan Department of Transportation to double down on enforcement of existing state law prohibiting billboard advertising of such products. 

Khaldun commended Whitmer for her move to block the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

“In the past few years, we’ve seen an explosive increase in the number of Michigan kids exposed to vaping products,” Khaldun said. “This is a public health crisis. These products can contain harmful chemicals that put our kids’ health at risk. I’m looking forward to working with Governor Whitmer to mitigate these effects and keep our kids healthy.”

Though the University of Michigan is deemed a smoke-free campus, e-cigarettes are popular on campus. LSA junior Blake Richards owns a Juul electronic cigarette and said he is trying to use it less because of the negative health effects. 

“Juul already stopped selling fruit flavors so I’m not really affected by that, but people like my brother would probably be pissed,” Richards said. “From my experience the addiction is strong enough that if people have already started smoking this (ban) won’t stop them. But it could probably make it much less attractive for non smokers to start smoking.”

The ban goes into effect immediately, giving retailers 30 days to days to comply with the mandate. 

In a statement, Juul Labs, a popular e-cigarette startup based in San Francisco, said the company had not reviewed Whitmer’s order, but supports guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration calling for more restrictions on e-cigarettes and that “strong and serious actions need to be taken around certain flavored products.”

“There is simply no place for kid-appealing flavors in the marketplace,” the statement reads.. “That is why we would also support an outright ban on such flavors, including those that mimic kid-specific candies, foods, and drinks.”

The statement also said Juul Labs backs laws prohibiting minors from purchasing tobacco, but added electronic nicotine delivery systems can help people quit smoking traditional combustible cigarettes, a claim that has faced scrutiny from scientists and researchers. While e-cigarettes are often marketed as smoking alternatives, the FDA has not formally certified them as cessation aids.

In June, Whitmer signed a senate bill, which banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and another senate bill, which mandated electronic nicotine delivery systems be sold in child-proof containers and “vapor products or alternative nicotine products” sold in retail stores be kept behind the counter.

In a press release, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel praised Whitmer for instating the ban.

“With a more than 1.5 million increase in the number of students using vaping products in just one year, the governor’s emergency actions today are exactly the bold measures we must take to protect Michigan’s children from the dangerous effects of vaping,” Nessel said in the press release.