SIDNEY — Should the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors in Michigan be banned?
It’s a question that is not generating any disagreement in Lansing, but the method of regulation of the controversial and increasingly popular product is creating mixed opinions amongst legislators.
Several pieces of legislation, in both the Michigan Senate and House, have been introduced in a three-bill package to block the sale of electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” to minors.
Two bills were voted through the senate earlier this month, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, has his own piece of legislation pending in the House as well.
Senate Bills 667 and 668 would amend Michigan’s public health code prohibiting the sale of the devices to minors as well as possession by minors.
House Bill 4997, sponsored by Outman, would also prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes “or any oral device that provides vapor nicotine” to minors.
Currently in Michigan, e-cigarettes can be sold to anyone, regardless of age, because they do not contain tobacco. They do, however, contain nicotine. The products are battery-powered and heat a nicotine-containing liquid to produce vapor which is inhaled similar to smoke produced by ordinary cigarettes.
It is because of the inhalation of nicotine that Outman said he believes the sale of the product needs to be restricted.
“My bill is pretty simple, I just want to keep it out of the hands of kids,” Outman said at Monday’s Legislative Update meeting at Montcalm Community College. “What I don’t want is for this to be a gateway for kids to start smoking. I don’t want them to enter the habit of holding these things in their hands and ingesting nicotine.”
Outman says his opinion is shared by the majority, but it’s the topic of how to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes that is causing conflict. He said he would like to see the e-cigarettes regulated the same way that standard cigarettes are handled under the Youth Tobacco Act in Michigan. Simply speaking, minors would not be able to purchase or be in possession of e-cigarettes without facing legal penalty, but the product would not otherwise be restricted for adults.
But certain organizations, and members of the government including Gov. Rick Snyder, feel that is not enough.
Snyder and health advocates, including the American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, are concerned that the legislation would define e-cigarettes as “non-tobacco” products.
Dr. Matthew Davis, chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Community Health, said at a policy briefing earlier this month that he wants e-cigarettes to be treated no differently than standard cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Davis said he believes a more appropriate way to protect public health, specially for youth, is to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products, which would put the products into a broader regulation. Davis added that the current legislation creates a separate classification for e-cigarettes, which would protect the products from “a lot of other regulations that tobacco products are currently subject to.”
“Regulations currently around tobacco products are very well thought out and appropriate for the health hazards that tobacco products present to the public,” he said.
Nationwide, the issue has been handled in a variety of ways.
Minnesota is looking at similar legislation, but with a stipulation that prohibits using the products indoors, while lawmakers in Nebraska are looking only to ban the sale of the products to minors.
Be it a substitute for smoking or a smoking cessation tool, Outman said he does not want to discourage the use of the product entirely, which he believes regulating it as a tobacco product would do.
“I don’t want people to have to re-learn how to regulate this, I want to make it simple,” he said. “For any store clerk, it would be the same rules (as selling ordinary cigarettes).
Outman said he isn’t entirely opposed to the idea of regulating e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, but said that is not the mission of his bill.
“If someone wants to take this further, that is a separate bill,” he said. “I just want these out of the hands of kids.”
According to Outman, his first reason for not wanting to classify e-cigarettes as a tobacco product is because they do not in fact contain tobacco.
“It isn’t a tobacco product, number one,” he said. “If you label it as a tobacco product, you open up the tobacco act, which is a place I didn’t want to go.”
Outman added that by labeling e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, the use of the product would be altered greatly for those who are older than 18 years of age, which would include placing the product under Michigan’s “Smoke Free” Air Law, prohibiting the use of them indoors.
“It would have the same rules as cigarettes,” he said. “I didn’t want to increase taxes on this and I don’t want to discourage the use of this, if it’s used properly.”
Outman said he believes Michigan needs to take action before any sort of federal action is made on the topic.
“We don’t know the (specific) chemicals used in these,” he said. “And there may be a Federal Drug Administration ruling that comes out later this year that may trump everything we’ve done, but I don’t want to wait for that. I want these out of the hands of kids, now, as fast as I can.”