Vaping retailers worry about effects of flavor ban for themselves, customers

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MICHIGAN (WJRT) (9/17/2019) A serious public health emergency -- that's how the Governor and Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services describe the rise in kids vaping.

"Bubble gum flavor, Fruit Loop flavor, Motts apple juice flavor, these are things that are target toward children, that are getting them addicted," Governor Gretchen Whitmer said

She believes the industry is making money at the risk of children's health. So, working with MDHHS, she's creating emergency rules to ban the sale, online and in store, of flavored nicotine vaping products.

"The nicotine in e-cigarettes is harmful to young people's developing brains and we all know that nicotine has long term health consequences, including heart disease and cancer," the state's Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, said.

She testified before Michigan's House Oversight Committee last week.

Republican State Representative Matt Hall called the meeting to hear how the ban would impact communities across the state.

"I think the best rules we can draft are those that involve public comment, involve us working together and finding the right solution," he said.

Rep. Hall asked Dr. Khaldun why the emergency ban is needed, since Public Act 18 went into effect on Labor Day. He said the new law bans kids 18 and under from buying or using vaping devices

"We believe that given the data and particularly the marketing toward youth and the fact that we still have these flavored products on the shelves, that this was necessary," Dr. Khaldun said.

She believes vaping has become a gateway to smoking for kids who would've otherwise never picked up the habit.

"Nationwide, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students, increased by 900% between 2011 and 2015," she explained.

Dr. Khaldun added, in 2018 3.6 million children vaped, which is 1.5 million more than in 2017.

MDHHS said they didn't ban all e-cigarettes knowing vaping is intended to help people quit smoking. But, many adults said it's the flavors that encouraged them to kick the habit.

"All of my customers have 3 things in common - they are adults, they're desperate to quit smoking after years if not decades of failing and they all use flavors," Mark Slis said.

He traveled from Houghton to share his concerns. Slis is a former smoker who appreciated what vaping did for him so much that he bought a vape shop.

"If the Governor's order stands and flavors are banned, I will immediately go out of business and file for bankruptcy, no question. I've already talked to my accountant and my lawyer and they agree. It's over," he told lawmakers.

Slis added his doctors told him he wouldn't be alive if it weren't for vaping.

He's worried without the alternative, he and other former smokers will return to cigarettes.

"You won't only be banning flavors, you'll be banning a life-saving industry from this state guaranteed," Slis said.

A fellow shop owner offered lawmakers a solution.

"Remove the e-liquid from the gas stations, from the grocery stores, from the general stores, allow only the sale of any vaping device or flavored e-liquid in a controlled environment of 18 or older," Keri Bruneel, of Battle Creek, said. "Have the FDA continue to monitor the sale and manufacturing of all e-liquid and manufacturing devices."

She, like other shop owners, strictly abides by the 18 or older rule in her store. That's why she and adult users feel the Governor's ban is unfair.

"I'm an adult I can make my own decisions," one vaper said.

Another added, "I think its kind of ridiculous. If anything should be targeted, it should be cigarettes."

MDHHS expects the rule to be finalized as soon as possible. The emergency rules will be in place for 6 months, an extension is possible. The Department hopes to work with lawmakers on eventually creating a permanent solution to protect public health.

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