Ordinance bans youth use of e-cigarettes

By: Jeremy Selweski | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published November 5, 2014


MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Selling electronic cigarettes to minors is now prohibited at the local level, and the fine for anyone who violates the rule is a stringent one.

At its Oct. 22 meeting, the Macomb Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved an ordinance banning the sale of e-cigarettes to persons under the age of 18, as well as the possession of e-cigarettes by underage persons. The ordinance was introduced by Trustee Clifford Freitas in an effort to crack down on the trendy new tobacco product.

In a subsequent interview, Freitas explained that his action was not the result of any existing problems in the community. Rather, it was simply intended as a way to take preventative measures until the use of e-cigarettes by minors is regulated at the federal or state level.

“We just don’t want our teenagers getting their hands on e-cigarettes,” Freitas said, “so this (ordinance) is kind of protecting them from themselves. We also wanted to make sure that our businesses know they cannot sell these products to minors.”

A memo to the board from Township Attorney Larry Scott indicates that the Food and Drug Administration does not currently provide any guidelines for the regulation of e-cigarettes. Furthermore, although at least 27 states across the U.S. have passed laws that prohibit e-cigarettes from being sold to and used by minors, Michigan is not one of them. In response to this, a handful of local municipalities — such as Birmingham and Rochester Hills — have adopted their own e-cigarette ordinances, while a few others — such as Fraser and Troy — have at least discussed the possibility of doing so.

Macomb Township’s ordinance includes a $50 fine for minors caught in possession of e-cigarettes. At the board meeting, Freitas also made a motion to increase the proposed fine for retailers caught selling e-cigarettes to minors from $50 to $500, which the board unanimously supported. Freitas later elaborated on the reasoning behind this change.

“A $50 fine is not nearly harsh enough, which is why we raised it to $500,” he said. “We wanted to be very clear that we will not allow this in our community. We wanted to send a strong message to businesses that selling (e-cigarettes) to minors will not be tolerated here.”

In addition to the restrictions on e-cigarettes, the ordinance amends Macomb Township’s regulations on tobacco possession by minors, which had not been updated since 1998. It incorporates all of the existing provisions found in the state’s Youth Tobacco Act, which was last modified in 2006.

According to Scott, e-cigarettes contain a solution of water, dissolved nicotine and flavoring ingredients that are heated by a battery-powered device. This vaporizes the nicotine solution, which passes into a mouthpiece and is inhaled in a manner similar to regular cigarettes. Often, glycerol or propylene glycol is added to the solution to give the appearance of smoke when the solution is vaporized. Scott noted that there are currently more than 400 brands of e-cigarettes on the market, and many of them offer products that seem designed to appeal to minors — fruit-flavored, sweet-tasting varieties; brightly colored, youthful “skins”; and marketing that utilizes cartoon characters.

Freitas added that e-cigarettes are known to be used as a vessel for smoking Cloud 9, the new liquid synthetic drug that has become popular among high school students. On Sept. 24, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel issued an emergency order declaring an imminent danger to the community health as a result of the potentially lethal Cloud 9 and made it clear that any retailers found selling the drug would face stiff penalties.

“That definitely played a factor in my decision to bring this (ordinance) before the rest of the board,” Freitas said. “We have to be very careful with those types of drugs. All these people who are making Cloud 9 will just try to modify it and bring it back in a slightly different form.”

Charlene McGunn, executive director of the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families — an organization that works to prevent and reduce youth substance use and its consequences in the Chippewa Valley Schools community — applauded Macomb Township’s action against e-cigarettes. She praised the board for being “proactive” in attempting to prevent the spread of a growing trend.

“We are very pleased to hear that they chose to pass this ordinance and protect our youth from this dangerous drug,” McGunn said. “There are traces of toxic metals in e-cigarettes, as well as nicotine, and the effects that they can have on users are still not fully understood. We’re also hearing a disturbing trend about students using e-cigarettes as a vessel for smoking tobacco and marijuana.”

A recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that in 2012, about 10 percent of — or an estimated 1.78 million — middle school and high school students nationwide reported that they had smoked e-cigarettes during the past year. In addition, data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that more than 263,000 students in grades 6-12 who had never smoked combustible cigarettes tried e-cigarettes in 2013, more than triple the 79,000 students who reported using e-cigarettes in 2011. Nearly 44 percent of those first-time e-cigarette users said that they also planned to try combustible cigarettes.

Locally, the Chippewa Valley Coalition held focus groups in February at Chippewa Valley, Dakota and Mohegan high schools with about 150 students. The results showed that e-cigarettes have become “significantly more popular” within the district, McGunn said. For this reason and others, she was glad to see Macomb Township increase its fine for selling e-cigarettes to minors from $50 to $500.

“A $50 fine is nothing for someone who sells tobacco for a living,” McGunn contended. “I think $500 is a much better deterrent against selling these products to minors. E-cigarettes promote youth smoking, which is very concerning for us. These companies try to advertise (e-cigarettes) as helping people quit smoking, but I don’t see any research indicating that to be true.”

Freitas is hopeful that the state Legislature will try to tackle regulations against e-cigarettes sometime in the next year. If that occurs, he noted that Macomb Township would amend its own e-cigarette ordinance in order to mirror state law.

“We just want to prevent our minors from buying and using these products,” Freitas said. “This is really all about safety, so we’re treating e-cigarettes just like regular cigarettes, as they should be.”