FILE - Michigan state Sen. Jim Ananich

Michigan state Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint

A package of bills designed to rein in the use of tobacco products, especially e-cigarettes, has been introduced by a group of Michigan senators, prompting a variety of public health policy responses. 

Senate Bills 781, 782, 783, 784, 785 and 786 are tie-barred, which means all bills must be passed or rejected as a collective whole. The bills were introduced in the wake of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order to ban flavored e-cigarettes last fall. 

Whitmer’s ban was overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals. A subsequent Michigan Supreme Court appeal to reinstate the ban by the Whitmer administration was denied.

SB 781, introduced by Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, amends Public Act 327, enacted in 1993. The amendment includes e-cigarettes, otherwise known as vaping products, in the tobacco products subject to Michigan taxes. The proposed tax on e-cigarettes, effective Jan. 1, 2021, would be 24 percent of the wholesale price.

SB 782, introduced by Sen. Marshall Bullock, D-Detroit, amends the 1915 Public Act 31, also known as “The Youth Smoking Act.” The bill would require state licenses for all businesses and sales staff engaged in selling vaping products, and establishes a $25 licensing fee.

SB 783, introduced by Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, also amends PA 31, and would impose penalties for individuals and businesses engaged in advertising aimed at children, such as using animated characters on packaging; naming products similar to candies or baked goods; and selling vaping products to minors.

Additionally, the amendment would make it illegal to compare the health effects of vaping products with the health effects of traditional tobacco products.

SB 784, introduced by Sen. Lana Thies, R-Sturgis, would amend PA 31 to require picture identification of those desiring to purchase e-cigarettes in person or online. No purchases may be made by individuals younger than 21 years of age.

Both SB 785 and SB 786 establish 21 as the legal age to purchase traditional tobacco and vaping products. 

“When a new tobacco product shows up on the market, it’s the legislature’s responsibility to make sure folks understand how to legally purchase, sell and consume these items,” Sen. Ananich told The Center Square. 

“Our bipartisan bills will clear up any confusion, keep vapes out of kids’ hands and set fair regulations for these products that are similar to how we treat any other tobacco product.”

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), however, issued a statement on Feb. 20 that asserts the organization wants more stringent regulation of e-cigarettes. 

“ACS CAN acknowledges that Michigan lawmakers want to address the toll of tobacco on Michiganders, but when it comes to these bills, the devil is in the details,” Andrew Schepers, director of government relations in Michigan, said. 

“These bills will not have an impact on the toll of tobacco in our state and will not protect our youth from the tobacco industry,” Schepers said.

“The low tax proposed in SB 781 would not apply to all e-cigarettes, leaving countless products available at inexpensive prices youth can afford,” Schepers said.  “All e-cigarettes should be defined and taxed as a tobacco product at 32% of the wholesale price, the same rate as the tax on other tobacco products,” he said.

Schepers also registered ACS CAN’s objections to SB 784: “While SB 784 would raise the current age of sale from 18 to 21, it does not provide for any active enforcement to ensure that retailers aren’t selling to youth,” he said.

Michael Ames, legal and government affairs advisor at Joost Vapor, headquartered in Grand Rapids, told The Center Square he approves of the bill package.

"Joost Vapor is pleased to see that our elected officials have chosen to take a more appropriate route regarding regulations of alternative nicotine products,” he said.

Michael LaFaive, director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, described the licensing requirement as “an unusually invasive government mandate,” but told The Center Square: “Raising the age of legal purchase for such products may be the acceptable tradeoff for lawmakers and industry to keep vape products legal.”

LaFaive continued: “Research shows that vape products are safer than combustible smokes. The key challenge here is to prevent people – especially youth – to be drawn into vaping as a first step. Stakeholders believe that raising the age of purchase from 18 to 21 is one way to accomplish that.

“This is a vastly superior tack than prohibiting outright the sale of vaping products and an entire class of cigarettes [menthol] as has occurred in Massachusetts,” LaFaive added. “Doing so will encourage massive smuggling and other unintended consequences, just like in the era of actual alcohol Prohibition.”

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.