Local law enforcement react to flavored vape ban

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published October 7, 2019

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MACOMB COUNTY — On Oct. 2, a statewide ban on flavored vaping products went into effect, following a two-week compliance period that began Sept. 18.

The ban was initiated by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who on Sept. 4 instructed the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to issue emergency rules to ban the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products in retail stores and online, and to ban the misleading marketing of vaping products, including the use of words such as “clean,” “safe,” and “healthy.”

She also ordered the Michigan Department of Transportation to enforce an existing statute to prohibit the advertising of vapor products on billboards.

“As governor, my No. 1 priority is keeping our kids safe,” Whitmer said Sept. 4. “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.”

The MDHHS reported in September that e-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product among youths in the United States. Nationally, e-cigarette use among middle school and high school students increased about 900% between 2011 and 2015. In 2018, about 3.6 million children were reported to be using e-cigarettes — about 1.5 million more children than the previous year.

Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith said Oct. 2 at the Clinton Township Police Department that the emergency rules prohibit the sale, transportation or distribution of flavored vape products, as well as prohibit possession with the intent to sell or otherwise distribute.

Anyone who violates the provisions, he said, could be found guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison, a fine not to exceed $200, or both. Violations will be calculated on a per-item, per-transaction basis and could be punished cumulatively.

Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said the new law in effect will involve “educating our retailers — the individual stores and shop owners that have these products.” From a law enforcement perspective, he said “periodic checks” will be conducted in similar fashion to how retailers and small businesses are already observed, as to not sell items like cigarettes and alcohol to minors.

“I think there’s no doubt, nobody will debate the fact that flavored vaping products target our youth,” Wickersham said. “This is really what this law’s all about, trying to protect our children and younger individuals who have been vaping, and getting it out of their hands.”

Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski said he is “very aware” of what he called the “vaping epidemic,” due to his children being ages 14 and 17. He mentioned how tainted products bootlegged from China are “causing hundreds and hundreds of deaths.”

“Bubble gum-flavored vape, cherry-flavored vape — who do we think this is made for? It’s made for teenagers,” Dwojakowski said.

As to whether this ban will increase the proliferation of tainted or bootleg products, purchased by minors online, Dwojakowski said, “I don’t know how you combat that.”

Smith said he presumes that all retailers are aware of this newly implemented ban, adding that he hopes it “doesn’t get to that stage” where retailers will continue selling the products or stocking their shelves with them.

When asked what message is sent to adults who used such products and purchased them legally, Smith said the “easy answer” is that none of these products should be sold to anyone. The ban is more so about them getting in kids’ hands.

“If adults are using that, well … that’s another issue altogether,” he said. “Right now, it doesn’t matter.”

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