Michigan this week became the first U.S. state to ban the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products, which critics say are largely to blame for an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use.
“As governor, my number one priority is keeping our kids safe,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”
Research does show that flavored e-cigarettes are more appealing to kids than adults, which has made them the target of many regulatory efforts to stop teen vaping—a habit that about a fifth of U.S. high school students reported last year. In March, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on selling flavored products (except for tobacco, mint and menthol) in non-age-restricted retail stores, making official a voluntary decision made by market-leading e-cig maker Juul the previous fall.
Whitmer’s ban comes a few months after San Francisco—where Juul is based—became the first major U.S. city to pass an outright ban on e-cigarettes, flavored or otherwise. (The measure is up for public vote in November.) The ban drew criticism from both the vapor industry and some public-health experts, who felt it could prompt some e-cigarette users to switch back to cigarettes and other tobacco products that remain available.
Michigan’s policy stops a bit short of San Francisco’s, banning only the retail and online sale of flavored vapor products while leaving unflavored products alone. It also bans advertising that uses “terms like ‘clean,’ ‘safe,’ and ‘healthy’ that perpetuate beliefs that these products are harmless,” according to a release from Whitmer’s office.
How harmful, or harmless, e-cigarettes really are is a source of great debate in the medical community. Since they heat liquid nicotine, rather than burning tobacco, e-cigarettes do produce fewer cancer-causing chemicals and byproducts than traditional cigarettes. That may make them safer than cigarettes—but most doctors agree they are not totally safe. Preliminary research suggests they can raise the risk of heart and lung diseases, and federal health officials are currently investigating more than 200 respiratory illnesses apparently associated with vaping.
Michigan’s emergency ban is set to go into effect in the next 30 days, and will last six months before potentially being renewed for another six months, the Washington Post reports. The state’s health department will also work to draft a permanent policy, per the Post.
Though it’s already sparked opposition from e-cigarette industry groups—the American Vaping Association called it a “shameless attempt at backdoor prohibition” — Michigan’s ban may also inspire copycats. A growing number of states, and the federal government, are considering Tobacco 21 legislation, which would raise the minimum age of purchase for tobacco products, including vapes, to 21. If Michigan is any indication, e-cigarette bans could be next.
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Contributor: Jamie Ducharme