In an effort to curb what she deems a “public health crisis,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed legislation that makes it formally illegal to sell vapor-based nicotine products to minors — but health policy advocates are frustrated that the bills don’t go further.
Taken together, Senate Bills 106 and 155 — sponsored by state Sens. Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes) and Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit), respectively — formally bar minors from purchasing or possessing “vaping” products, or e-cigarettes. The products have been touted by some as a “harm reduction” mechanism when compared with traditional cigarettes or other smokable tobacco.
Health policy groups, however, have expressed concern with their use among teens.
The Legislature passed the bills almost unanimously last month. At the time it was unclear whether Whitmer would sign them, as some public health groups argued against them on the basis that they failed to explicitly identify “vaping” products as part of that “tobacco products” category.
In a statement on Tuesday, Whitmer called the legislation “an important step,” but said that she signed the bills “with significant reservations.” In a letter to state senators, the governor cited numerous statistics as cause for concern, including an increase in the sale of e-cigarettes to high school students of 78 percent from 2017 to 2018.
Whitmer said the state will continue efforts to keep the products out of the hands of minors, who she says are increasingly switching to smokable tobacco products upon getting addicted to nicotine in e-cigarettes.
Those efforts include “raising the legal age for purchasing these products to 21, curtailing internet sales of e-cigarettes, and banning the marketing of all tobacco products to children,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I’m ready to keep working with the Legislature to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect our kids and our public health.”
Still, several public health interest groups spoke out Tuesday against Whitmer’s signing the bills, saying that their failure to classify e-cigarettes as “tobacco products” crucially prevents them from being taxed at the same rate as traditional cigarettes.
In her Tuesday letter to lawmakers, Whitmer said she’s directing the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Treasury to explore further recommendations around e-cigarette science and taxation and report back “at the earliest possible date.”
Health groups say taxing e-cigarettes as traditional tobacco products would lead to a decrease in usage.
“Decades of experience and research demonstrate that only through a comprehensive approach to tobacco control using proven tactics such as comprehensive smoke-free laws and taxation can we ensure the greatest positive impact on health outcomes,” said Andrew Schepers, director of government relations in Michigan for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
“Opportunities were missed to take legislative actions that would reduce e-cigarette usage rates and save lives.”
Likewise, Jared Burkhart, executive director for the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MIAAP), expressed frustration with the bills’ limitations, but expressed hope that further action will be taken.
“We are disappointed that this legislation puts electronic cigarettes into a separate class from other tobacco and nicotine products, given the highly addictive properties and other adverse health effects,” Burkhart said in a statement. “However, Gov. Whitmer’s action is encouraging. We urge all elected officials to strengthen the new law by banning vape flavors, subjecting vape products to our clean air laws, and taxing all nicotine delivery products in an equitable way.”
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