Michigan on Wednesday became the first state in the nation to ban flavored e-cigarettes, a step the governor said was needed to protect young people from the potentially harmful effects of vaping.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in an interview, said the state health department found that youth vaping constituted a public health emergency, prompting her to take the action.
“My number one priority is keeping our kids safe and protecting the health of the people of Michigan,” said Whitmer, a Democrat.
She complained that e-cigarette companies are using sweet flavors, such as bubble gum and “fruit loops,” to hook young people on nicotine, with potentially long-term harmful consequences.
The ban, which covers retail and online sales, goes into effect immediately and will last for six months, and can be renewed for another six months. In the meantime, state officials said, they will develop permanent regulations banning flavored e-cigarettes. The state legislature could try to block those rules, but such legislation would face a veto, they added.
Whitmer’s move applies to retail and online sales of vaping products that use sweet and fruity flavors as well as mint and menthol ones. It does not cover tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes.
The governor also prohibited what she called misleading descriptions of vapor products such as “clear,” “safe” and “healthy” and ordered the enforcement of an existing ban on using billboards to advertise for e-cigarettes.
The e-cigarette order is effective immediately, but businesses will have 30 days to comply, Whitmer said.
The state Department of Health and Human Services, in finding that youth vaping is a public health emergency, cited studies showing that vaping products contain a variety of chemicals and metal particles whose long-term health impact is unknown.
It also noted that nicotine can affect the developing brain and that studies indicate that young people who vape are more likely to start smoking regular cigarettes.
While Michigan is the first state to prohibit sales of flavored e-cigarettes, several cities and communities have restricted or banned sales of e-cigarettes. In late June, San Francisco became the first major city in the United States to ban the sale and distribution of all e-cigarettes; the ban goes into effect early next year.
Vaping advocates are expected to oppose the Michigan ban as misguided and potentially harmful. While many concede the long-term effects of e-cigarettes are not known, they say vaping is almost certainly safer than traditional cigarette smoking, which is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths a year in the United States. Making it harder for smokers to get e-cigarettes means some smokers will go back to regular cigarettes, they say.
Whitmer’s order comes amid a recent spate of serious lung illnesses, including one death, that have been linked to vaping. State and federal officials have said they are focusing closely on possible contaminants or counterfeit substances in black-market marijuana products. But they also have stressed they have not ruled out any vaping products, including nicotine e-cigarettes.
Last year, federal officials reported a surge in vaping among middle and high school students, prompting the Food and Drug Administration in March to propose sales restrictions on many flavored e-cigarettes. The proposal would bar sales of sweet and fruity kid-friendly vaping products in stores that allow minors to enter or don’t have a separate adults-only section. But the proposal has not yet been finalized. In addition, it does not cover menthol or mint-flavored products, which studies say are popular with young people.
Health advocates welcomed Whitmer’s move. Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, called the action “bold and appropriate.” She added that “in the absence of robust regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, we know shockingly little about the health impact of e-cigarettes being widely marketed to youth and adults.”