Whitmer OKs e-cigarette ban for minors, cites ‘reservations’

LANSING (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reluctantly signed a ban Tuesday to keep electronic cigarettes out of the hands of Michigan minors, expressing reservations because it will separate e-cigarettes from the definition of tobacco products.

Whitmer agreed to enact the bills despite opposition from within her administration, where the state Department of Health and Human Services has said they will directly conflict with federal regulations and exempt vapor and alternative nicotine products from smoke-free air laws.

The new measures, which take effect in September, will prohibit stores from selling e-cigarettes and minors from using the products. The U.S. government already bars such sales, but Michigan was among just two states without its own restrictions.

Whitmer called the use of e-cigarettes by young people a “public health crisis” and said while the products were initially marketed as a tool to help smokers avoid inhaling tobacco smoke, the pitch now looks like a “bait and switch” to create new nicotine addicts.

Signing the legislation “is an important step in protecting public health and keeping tobacco products out of the hands of our kids, but we have to keep working to ensure that minors don’t have access to any tobacco products, including harmful e-cigarettes,” the Democrat said in a written statement. She called for raising the age to buy e-cigarettes to 21, curtailing internet sales and banning the marketing of all tobacco products to children.

Whitmer also asked the state health department to make recommendations on regulating e-cigarettes. And she requested that the state treasury department determine if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s reasons for deeming them tobacco products should apply to Michigan law on the tobacco licensing and taxation.

The bills sailed through the Republican-led Legislature this year with bipartisan support, after being vetoed by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in 2015.

Whitmer’s decision drew criticism from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

“Decades of experience and research demonstrate that only through a comprehensive approach to tobacco control using proven tactics such as comprehensive smoke-free laws and taxation can we ensure the greatest positive impact on health outcomes,” said Michigan government relations director Andrew Schepers.