Yesterday, Michigan announced that they would be the first state in the U.S. to ban flavored e-liquids. This includes both retail and online sales and it goes into effect immediately. Shops have 30-days to sell what they already have in stock. The ban will last for six months and can then be renewed for another six months after that.
This ban is the result of an executive order put in place by Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer.
Whitmer is currently doing this unilaterally, meaning she made this decision on her own without the agreement of others and she’s supposedly working with the legislature to get it written into statute later.
She has said that she is using her power as governor to order the department of health and human services to ban flavored vape products, restrict advertising that claims vaping is healthy or is a good alternative to smoking, and she wants to make sure that vape products aren’t being marketed next to candy in retail stores.
Nearly everything Whitmer has claimed is false or exaggerated, and I think she knows it, but she’s using typical anti-vaping talking points to deceive the media and general public. I also wonder if she’s doing this to bring the spotlight on herself. But anyway, let’s talk about some of these things.
The Vaping Epidemic
Whitmer has given several reasons for putting the ban into effect, starting with the surgeon general’s claims in 2018 that youth vaping was an epidemic. She has said that her chief medical officer told her this week that they have a public health crisis on their hands and that’s when she decided to make the executive decision to put the ban in place.
So she’s mixing up two things here; the youth vaping epidemic and the “public health crisis” that’s been in the news recently that’s causing people to end up in the hospital with lung failure.
The vaping epidemic is a scare tactic, but actual data shows the truth. Data from the CDC and the 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey show that only ~12% of high school students have tried vaping in the past month. That doesn’t mean they use it regularly, only that they’ve tried it. Of those students, 70% of them use it irregularly, or what would be described as “weekend” vaping.
To put that 12% in perspective, federal data shows that 30% of high school students drink alcohol and 18% have reported being drunk in the past month. And 22% of students report that they use marijuana.
In other words, there is no vaping epidemic.
The Lung Damage Health Crisis
As for the public health crisis, this all started when the media reported that vaping was causing people to end up in the hospital with extreme irreversible lung damage. The media and anti-tobacco groups saw their opportunity and went into full attack mode against vaping. This was their chance and they didn’t wait for the truth to come out.
Today we know that these lung damage cases are the result of people buying THC vape products on the black market. These aren’t being sold in stores. There are about 300 cases reported so far and it’s believed that many, if not all of them, were caused by lipoid pneumonia, which is when fat or oil gets into the lungs. That can happen when someone makes a DIY e-liquid with something like vegetable oil or by using essential oils that aren’t made for vaping. Store-bought e-liquid is made with vegetable glycerin or propylene glycol. These are alcohols, not fats, which is why they can’t cause lipoid pneumonia. (Update: The FDA reports it’s Vitamin E, such as from olive oil, being used in black market cannabis products. The chemical was not found in any nicotine products tested)
So the public health crisis is the result of people buying black market vape products, mainly THC products. We know this isn’t the result of general vaping, otherwise, it would be happening in other places where vaping is common, like the UK or Canada. That’s not to say these THC products won’t eventually spread there, but this is a cluster restricted only to the U.S. right now, which implies that it’s a black market issue, not the result of generic nicotine vaping.
Why Not Ban Cigarettes, Cigars, or Alcohol?
One of the most questionable things about this entire thing is that she’s banning vape products but not tobacco or even flavored alcohol, both of which are also issues with underage users.
I’m absolutely not saying flavored alcohol or tobacco should be banned. I don’t think it should. I’m just saying that Whitmer is arbitrarily targeting vaping.
Are There Really Dangerous Ingredients in E-Liquid?
Whitmer has talked about how 80% of youth start with flavored vaping products. She also says that these kids are inhaling formaldehyde, toxic chemicals, and metal particles, which is causing them to end up in the hospital with severe respiratory illnesses.
As discussed above, we already know that the severe lung damage is caused by black market e-liquids, not vaping in general.
In regards formaldehyde and toxic chemicals, these are extremely outdated statements. Formaldehyde studies have been debunked after we found out that the researchers were burning the cotton, not vaping it. And toxic chemicals like diacetyl haven’t been used in commercial e-liquids for many years.
In regards to metal particles, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos did a study on this too. He tested products using extreme use conditions, which is double what the average user would vape, and he found that exposure to metals is not expected to be a significant health risk.
Marketing to Children
When Whitmer was asked how she’s seeing these products being marketed to children, she mentioned that there are bubble gum flavors, fruit loop flavors, and even flavors that look like Motts apple sauce, which she says implies it’s healthy.
This is a common anti-tobacco claim, but it doesn’t hold water. Sure, kinds like flavors, but doesn’t everyone? Do adults all of the sudden hate flavors when they turn 18? Several studies have shown that adults want e-liquid flavors. The Harm Reduction Journal published a study showing that more than 20,000 adult vapors use flavors. Another recent study of over 4,500 adult vapors showed that flavor variability is very important in helping vapors to quit or reduce their smoking habits.
Claiming that bubble gum and fruit loops e-liquids attract kids sounds reasonable to the uninformed public, but you can’t buy these flavors outside of vape shops. These vape shops don’t allow anyone under age to get in to even see them. Sure, kids might like flavors like bubble gum, but vape companies don’t make them to attract kids. They make them because adults like them.
Whitmer also talked about restricting advertising that claims that vaping is healthy or a good alternative to smoking. This type of advertising hasn’t been allowed by the FDA for many years. Even when I did my first vape review in 2010, the company told me that I couldn’t claim that it was healthy or safer than smoking. This just isn’t a thing. We as a vape community say it, because we know it’s true, but there aren’t any businesses saying it in their advertising.
And Whitmer also said that she wants to restrict companies from putting vape products next to candy in the stores. That’s also not something that actually happens. Vape products are either in vape shops where kids aren’t allowed or they are placed behind the counter with all of the other tobacco products, not anywhere near shelves of candy.
The Repercussions of Whitmer’s Decision
Whitmer is using her power to turn Michigan into a nanny state. She clearly thinks that she’s doing a huge favor to her citizens. Does she think that Michigan citizens don’t know any better and that they will thank her one day?
But what Whitmer doesn’t realize, or maybe it’s just that she doesn’t care, is that there are tens of thousands of vapers in Michigan that use flavored vaping products to stay off of cigarettes. She’s is forcing them all back to smoking. Her supporters are saying that vapers can still use tobacco flavored e-liquids, but these people don’t realize that it’s the flavors that make vaping work to keep adults away from smoking.
What Whitmer also isn’t considering is that she is now opening up the floodgates for black market products in her state. The public health crisis she talked about is the result of black market vape products, not of flavored e-liquids legally purchased in a store. Not only will more underage users seek out black market products, but so will adults.
And finally, all of the vape shops in Michigan will be forced out of business. Thousands of small businesses – businesses who help smokers switch to vaping, businesses that contribute taxes to their cities, and businesses that employ thousands of workers – they will all go under.
There are huge consequences for Whitmer’s actions. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think she’ll have a huge lawsuit on her hands. And hopefully, the state legislature overrides Whitmer’s executive order.
What Can You Do?
If you’re in Michigan, and you care, you have to do something right now.
CASAA.org put up a post with Governor Whitmer’s office phone number. They are telling people to call her and urge her to rescind her executive order.
CASAA is also asking Michigan citizen’s to call and write to their state lawmakers. There’s a link on CASAA’s blog post that leads to a form you can fill out and will then help connect you with the people you need to contact.
If you’re not in Michigan, prepare to get involved if a ban comes to your state. It’s very likely that other states will follow Michigan’s lead. Go to CASAA.org and sign up to become a FREE member. You’ll get up-to-date news about regulations happening around the U.S. and in your local areas and helpful information about what you can do to fight against it.
Image Attribution: Cjh1452000 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]