A local lawmaker says the state response to teen vaping and a recently announced ban on the sale of flavored vape products reflects the gravity of what is becoming a serious, statewide health problem.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer today issued an order making Michigan the first state in the nation to ban flavored nicotine vaping products. It followed a finding from Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun that youth vaping constitutes a public health emergency. 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, and ban misleading marketing of vaping products, including the use of terms like “clean,” “safe,” and “healthy” that perpetuate beliefs that these products are harmless. The governor also ordered the Michigan Department of Transportation to enforce an existing statute to prohibit the advertising of vapor products on billboards.

State Representative Hank Vaupel chairs the House Health Policy Committee and emphasized the need for educating young people - saying they need to know that it is serious and they can’t keep challenging their lungs with foreign products and not end up with a problem – regardless of whether they’re supposed to be toxic or not. The Fowlerville Republican says the legislature is aware of the issues and has been working on it but the products seem to be outpacing what the legislation can do. Vaupel commented that he thinks banning the flavored products and increasing the age to 21 to purchase the vaping products is a real start – adding all of the superintendents, teachers and principals in every school district he has talked to agree that vaping really is a growing problem.

Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, called the order, “bold and appropriate action in response to the epidemic of youth e-cigarette use.” Brown added that, “The recent outbreak of respiratory illnesses associated with e-cigarette use has only added to the uncertainty and increased the need for immediate action. We urge the FDA to move urgently to protect public health and exercise strict oversight over all e-cigarette products.”

In making the announcement, Whitmer said that “As governor, my number one priority is keeping our kids safe, 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. Our kids deserve leaders who are going to fight to protect them. These bold steps will finally put an end to these irresponsible and deceptive practices and protect Michiganders’ public health.”

From 2017 to 2018, e-cigarette use spiked 78% among high school students and 48% among middle school students. In 2018, more than 3.6 million U.S. kids, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students were regular users. These rates are still climbing, likely fueled by the availability of flavors akin to apple juice, bubble gum, and Nerds.

Whitmer's announcement drew praise from public health advocates, school groups and Democratic lawmakers but it's getting criticism from organizations that advocate for vaping and some Republicans in the GOP-led Legislature as not everyone is supportive of the recently announced ban. The American Vaping Association says the "shameless attempt at backdoor prohibition" could send thousands of ex-smokers back to deadly cigarettes. It says it will support lawsuits to challenge the ban. (JK/JM)