Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an administrative order Wednesday that will significantly impact small businesses catering to e-cigarette consumers, retailers contacted by The Center Square said, including leading to job losses.
Whitmer directed the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to ban the online and traditional brick-and-mortar sale of flavored nicotine e-cigarette products. The rationale is sweetened flavors disproportionally attract minors to take up smoking e-cigarettes, a practice known as vaping.
Additionally, the emergency rules prohibit marketing e-cigarettes with what Whitmer's office described as misleading terms such as “clean,” “safe” and “healthy.” Whitmer also ordered the Michigan Department of Transportation to ensure enforcement of an existing statute prohibiting billboard advertising of vaping products.
Michigan is the first state to enact such anti-vaping measures.
“As governor, my number one priority is keeping our kids safe,” Whitmer said in a statement. “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.”
The ban is tentatively scheduled to expire six months after it goes in effect, which is anticipated in the next few weeks. After the rules are finalized, businesses will be granted 30 days to comply.
Once the rules expire, MDHHS may renew them unless the legislature enacts laws in the interim that are more stringent than current standards drafted by the Federal Drug Administration.
Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a statement in which she asserted: "With a more than 1.5 million increase in the number of students using vaping products in just one year, the governor's emergency actions today are exactly the bold measures we must take to protect Michigan's children from the dangerous effects of vaping."
Michael Ames is chief administrative and compliance officer at Joost Vapor, which is headquartered in Wyoming, Mich., and maintains 17 storefronts in the state.
“We commend the Governor’s focus of combating the underage vaping issue," Ames said. "Instead of initiating emergency powers that are bound to have drastic effects to many employees statewide and thousands of consumers, it would be more effective to work in a collaborative effort with our elected officials and industry leaders to combat the actual causes and offenders leading to underage nicotine use."
Joost Vapor understands that use of vaping products by those underage is unacceptable and that company has taken its own steps to prevent it, he added.
“Joost Vapor has made reliable and effective policies and has already collaborated with our elected officials to help combat this issue," Ames said. "We offer to do so with the Governor to come up with common-sense, effective regulation that does not punish the consumers and employees of an entire industry.”
Ames told The Center Square that many adults indulge in flavored e-cigarettes, not just minors. The new rules will have a negative impact on Joost’s sales to adults, which will force the company to lay off some of its workforce.
Not just low-paying retail jobs, either, he said.
“We pay our employees well above minimum wage and provide them with 401(k) packages and health care as well,” he said.
Ames recommends the state continue its current oversight of the vaping retail industry. He said Joost has been successful with law enforcement undercover stings. He said the company was targeted by “more than 100 law-enforcement sting operations” in the six years the company has been in business. These stings, he said, were to catch Joost employees who sold e-cigarettes and vaping products to minors.
Ames also noted Joost ceased online sales long ago because of difficulty with age-verification.
“I just wish the state would target the actual offending companies instead of the entire industry. In other words, rebuke the guilty rather than make everyone guilty by association.”