On Wednesday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to issue emergency rules to ban the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products in retail stores and online, making Michigan the first state to do so. The order comes after Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, made a finding that youth vaping constitutes a public health emergency. 

“We’ve seen an 800 percent – 900 percent increase between 2011 and 2015 in use of [e-cigarettes], and 81 percent of our young kids who start vaping start with a flavored product,” said Governor Whitmer in an interview with MSNBC. “They market it like it’s a healthy alternative, that it’s glamorous, when in fact, our kids are inhaling nicotine – which is addictive – formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals, and they’re ending up in the hospital. It’s time for us to take action.”

The ban, which includes both the sale and marketing of flavored e-cigarette products, went into effect immediately and will last for six months with the option to renew for another six months; after that, the Legislature would need to create legislation to make the ban permanent. 

Vaping has become a serious issue for schools in recent years, with more students taking up the habit every year. E-cigarette products come in a variety of flavors and, according to the Governor and some healthcare officials, are packaged and marketed in a way that appeals to younger people. The flavored products do have a warning label alerting users that the product contains nicotine, but it does little to deter teen and adult users alike. 

Even with mounting evidence to the contrary, most young people think vaping is harmless. A study published in Preventive Medicine Reports surveyed adolescents currently using e-cigarettes and found that the majority of young users thought vaping was “perfectly safe.”

“There’s no study saying that it’s bad for you,” said one participant. “I enjoy it, so why stop if I know that there’s nothing that’s going to kill me? Now like if they’re like, ‘People who use the vaporizers for five years are going to die when they are 23,’ then I’ll probably be like, ‘Oh nope,’ and throw it out the window or something; but like for now … why stop?”

The study, which was published in March 2019, also found that participants were knowledgeable about the effects of nicotine, a chemical found in e-cigarettes, but continued to believe vaping was safe and had no health risks. 

Evidence of the harmful effects of vaping, especially among youth, has been growing in recent years. In 2018, the Surgeon General released an advisory calling for action to be taken “to protect the health of our nation’s young people.” The advisory cited that in 2018, more than 3.6 million youth in the U.S., including one in five high school students and one in 20 middle school students, were using e-cigarettes. Recent studies have shown that while e-cigarettes pose fewer health risks than regular cigarettes (such as lower risk of developing cancer), there are still risks associated with vaping, including increased risk of non-cancer related lung disease and cardiovascular disease; so far, two deaths linked to vaping have been reported in Illinois and Oregon, respectively. On August 30, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that they were investigating 215 cases across of severe pulmonary disease in connection with the use of e-cigarette products across 25 states in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state and local health departments. 

Earlier this summer, Governor Whitmer signed Senate Bills 106 and 155, which clarify that it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes and other non-traditional nicotine products to minors, but criticized the legislation for not going far enough to protect children from nicotine addiction, a position MASSP supported. The Governor called the marketing, packaging and taste of e-cigarettes a “bait and switch” engineered to “create new nicotine addicts.” 

For secondary school principals, the ban is a win; the bills Governor Whitmer signed into law aided in limiting student access to e-cigarettes, but a total ban on flavored products will likely further reduce e-cigarette usage amongst teens. 

“This is a step in the right direction,” said MASSP Executive Director Wendy Zdeb of the ban. "Principals have been working hard to proactively address this issue by raising awareness about the short and long term danger of vaping with limited success. The ban is needed to stop the sale of these products to students.”  

Time will tell if the ban will really help curb the use of e-cigarettes among adolescent users, but Governor Whitmer has made it her priority to keep kids safe. 

"Our kids deserve leaders who are going to fight to protect them,” said Whitmer in a statement. “These bold steps will finally put an end to these irresponsible and deceptive practices and protect Michiganders’ public health.”

Written by Alicia Pilmore, MASSP Communications and Marketing Manager