Gov. Gretchen Whitmer offered three emergency rules Sep. 4 banning all flavored vaping products from Michigan shelves amid what Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said is a youth vaping “public health emergency.”

“This is a health crisis and in a health crisis, I have the ability to take action and we’re taking it,” Whitmer said. “There are 13-year-olds who are vaping fruit loops right now. They are doing life-long damage and have no idea they are engaging in a substance that they’re going to be addicted to maybe for the rest of their lives,” she said.

The governor said she is the nation’s first chief executive to move against the vaping industry, which she described as “an industry notorious for deceiving the public and for putting their bottom line before the public health.”

Her three-step ban includes taking all flavored e-cigarettes and vaporizing products off the shelves, including such flavors as bubble gum and apple sauce. She is going after the marketing strategies that she argues “are focusing on our kids and they are targeting and making money off of them and they’re hurting them.”

She reported products are sold next to candy on the store shelves.

The governor’s unprecedented action comes after she signed legislation earlier this year that bans the sale of vaping products to teenagers under 17.

Whitmer said the extra steps are needed “because (the law) is not being enforced and they (the products) are widely available. That’s the problem.” She will eventually ask lawmakers to codify her temporary emergency action.

The governor’s actions impact both minors and adults, who will still apparently have access to so-called tobacco vaping devices.

The mother of two teenage daughters, Whitmer is especially concerned about “kids who are going to be compromised forever because of one company that wants to make some money and falsely advertised and got them addicted to a drug.”

Some critics pointed to the already enacted ban on youth use of e-cigarettes Whitmer signed a few months ago. How is a blanket ban on selling flavored vaping devices to anyone addressing the youth use issue?

Others questioned why the Whitmer would try to remove devices that some say help people quit smoking traditional tobacco products.

Whitmer stepped outside of a Lansing event just after 5 p.m. to bat back these objections and others in a conversation with reporters.

Asked about taking away flavored e-cigarettes used by some to break their traditional cigarette habit, the governor said, “The fact of the matter is that 81 percent of kids who are vaping started with some sort of flavored vape.”

“This is a health crisis we’re confronting, and it would never be permitted if it was cigarettes. But we’re letting these companies target our kids, appeal to our kids and deceive our children, and they’re showing up with respiratory illnesses that no one can explain,” said the governor said.

According to a number of health groups supportive of Whitmer’s move, there has been a series of “severe respiratory illnesses associated with e-cigarette use” in at least 215 people in 25 states under investigation.

In addition, the recent death of an Illinois resident was connected to e-cigarettes and is considered the first potential death connected to vaping.

However, the leader of a vaping industry group also referenced the “recent spate of lung illnesses” that he said are “now clearly linked to illegal THC vaping products.”

Asked again about taking away an alternative to smoking for adults, Whitmer said the flavored e-cigarettes are “created and appealing to children,” arguing that flavors like bubble gum and Mott’s apple juice are examples.

As to the suggestion that the state should just enforce the ban on youth use, the governor agreed, and said it needs to be enforced, “I said yesterday we have got a lot of work to do to make sure we enforce the law, but we must also keep those products out of commerce across the state.”

While Whitmer reiterated she believes she’s on solid legal footing with this move—Attorney General Dana Nessel was consulted and voiced her support publicly—the American Vaping Association (AVA) today called it an “illegal backdoor flavor ban” and added that businesses, which have 30 days to sell off product, “will not go down without a fight.”

“We look forward to supporting the lawsuits that now appear necessary to protect the right of adults to access these harm reduction products,” said AVA President Gregory Conley, in a statement. He said a flavor ban would trigger a “massive, multi-million dollar black market for these products.”

Conley said a recent attempt by New York state government to enact a similar ban without the state’s legislative approval resulted in it being pulled.

Asked about a potential legal challenge, Whitmer, a lawyer by trade, shot back, “bring it on . . . trust me. I have run all the traps to make sure this is squarely within our power. This is something where we’re going to be a national leader and considerably better off for it.”

Another vaping advocate group–Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives Association—urged people to call Whitmer’s office to urge her to “rescind this order.”

The Vapor Technology Association released a statement reading that Whitmer’s decision “is not based on science or common sense,” and that a flavor ban would result in “the loss of more than 1,200 Michigan jobs, hundreds of Michigan small businesses, $51M in state and local taxes, and the creation of a black market.”

FreedomWorks Foundation—which said it advocates for smaller government, lower taxes, free markets, personal liberty and rule of law—argued Whitmer’s ban would result in Michiganders “being denied access to the type of tobacco harm-reduction strategies that are saving lives and preserving freedom.”

Health organizations were all for the governor’s flavor ban, including the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, the Michigan Association for Local Public Health and the Michigan Osteopathic Association.

A joint statement issued by a number of health groups said Whitmer took the “necessary and appropriate action” to tackle what they called a “growing epidemic of youth e-cigarette use.”

“The youth e-cigarette epidemic is nothing short of a public health emergency that must be urgently confronted,” according to the statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics Michigan Chapter, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Truth Initiative.

The health groups said e-cigarette use in middle and high school students increased by 1.5 million from last year to 3.6 million. They also cited research showing that 97 percent of current youth e-cigarette users used a flavored product in the past month, and 70 percent cited flavors as a key reason for their use.

The Michigan Academy of Family Physicians “strongly” urged “individuals of all ages” to refrain from e-cigarettes or vaping, and “while the long-term safety data are not yet available on these relatively new products and devices, we do know that e-cigarettes and vapor contain harmful compounds.”

Other organizations, like the Michigan League for Public Policy and the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, also backed the governor’s action.

House Oversight Looking Into Flavored Vaping Ban
The House Oversight Committee was scheduled to hold a public hearing on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency declaration that removes flavored e-cigarettes from the shelves in Michigan, according to Chair Matt Hall (R-Emmett Twp.

The meeting was called because the decision came “without public comment” and residents deserve more transparency from their government on the subject, Hall said.

“There needs to be more accountability . . . Regardless of one’s stance on flavored nicotine vaping products, the Governor should have at least provided ample opportunities for people to have their voices heard,” Hall said.

Whitmer Press Secretary Tiffany Brown took exception to Hall saying the governor is declaring a “ban on an entire industry.”

She said the governor’s action last week applies to flavored vaping products, given the Department of Health and Human Services finding that use of these “addictive products among youth has created a public health emergency”.

“The whole point of emergency rules—a power the Legislature deliberately gave the governor—is to allow government to act quickly in the face of a threat to public health and safety,” Brown said.

According to DHHS, e-cigarette use among the youth is a public health crisis with more than 3.6 million U.S. kids, including one in five high school students, being regular users. These rates are likely climbing, Brown argued, because of the availability of flavors like apple juice, bubble gum and Nerds.

This story courtesy of MIRS, a Lansing-based news and information service.