Juvenile vaping ban passes, unclear if Whitmer will sign

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The Michigan House approved a Senate bill almost unanimously on Wednesday that would ban minors from purchasing vapor-based, or “vape” and other “alternative nicotine” products. Now it’s on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

Senate Bill 106 would bring Michigan’s laws regarding e-cigarettes in line with those of both the federal government and almost every other state in the union. Michigan and Pennsylvania are the only two states without their own restrictions on access to minors.

Rick Outman

When the bill passed the Senate in late April, sponsor state Sen. Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes) said its focus was “to prevent kids from obtaining the items in the first place rather than punishing them for possession.”

The legislation requires that alternative nicotine products be stored out of arm’s reach in retail settings and a fine of at least $100 for anyone who sells them to minors,  twice the amount of the fine for selling traditional tobacco products.

To some groups like the American Cancer Society (ACS), however, even a state-level ban sales doesn’t go far enough.

“The legislation fails to take them out of public places and fails to provide a disincentive to purchase the products,” the ACS’ Andrew Schepers wrote in a statement Thursday. “ACS CAN [Cancer Action Network] calls on Governor Whitmer to protect the health of Michiganders by vetoing this e-cigarette legislation and work with the legislature to pass comprehensive legislation that will have an impact.”

Whitmer has been ambiguous on whether she plans to sign the bill into law, with spokesperson Tiffany Brown saying she wants a “meaningful solution” to the nicotine products’ popularity among youth.

Department of Health and Human Services | Susan J. Demas

Whitmer’s administration has also voiced concerns about the legislation’s failure to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products for the purpose of regulation, saying it could cause confusion with federal guidelines.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) argued in a March House committee meeting that the failure to follow the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s lead in classifying e-cigarettes as such “will unnecessarily sow confusion and will send a mixed health message to the public that these products are less harmful or even safe.”

Whitmer voted in favor of similar legislation as a state senator in 2014.

That bill, House Bill 4997, ultimately was vetoed by Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder, who said at the time that “the legislation would have gone against the position taken by 40 state attorneys general, including Michigan’s [Republican former Attorney General] Bill Schuette, who believe that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should regulate e-cigarettes pursuant to its tobacco product authority.”

Gretchen Whitmer, March 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

In a statement to the Advance, Brown declined to say whether her boss would sign the bill.

“The governor supports raising the state’s tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21 and she believes that we need a meaningful solution that keeps vaping products and e-cigarettes out of the hands of youth,” Brown said.

Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson covers local government, education, health care and the social safety net, and LGBTQ issues. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington, and before that covered local politics in Chicago. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He enjoys film, the Detroit Pistons and his cat. He once competed in the National Spelling Bee, but was eliminated before any potential ESPN appearances.

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