Pro/con: Use Michigan's existing tobacco laws to cover e-cigarettes (guest column) – Detroit Free Press

Minors should not be allowed to purchase e-cigarettes. On this point, vast majorities of legislators and the public agree. The bigger question is: How should regulation about e-cigarettes be put in place?

The Michigan Legislature is wrestling with this issue right now.

The simplest way to prohibit the sales of e-cigarettes to minors is to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products. That would allow the state to regulate e-cigarettes under existing tobacco-related laws in Michigan that make sales to minors illegal.

Classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products is appropriate: The liquid vaporized from an e-cigarette includes extracts from tobacco leaves. That extract includes nicotine, the addictive substance that keeps users coming back for another “vape.” The extract has also been shown to contain substances found in tobacco — such as nitrosamine, which is known to cause cancer.

Related: Pro/con: E-cigarettes aren’t tobacco, so don’t treat them like they are

In contrast, manufacturers of e-cigarettes want e-cigarettes to have their own air space within Michigan law, prohibiting sales of e-cigarettes to minors and otherwise shielding these new products from applicable state tobacco laws. This approach may seem reasonable at first, as legislators address e-cigarettes that the public widely perceives as threatening the health of young people.

However, separate regulations for e-cigarettes are unnecessary. Writing special rules for e-cigarettes unnecessarily complicates state law.

E-cigarette manufacturers imply that their products are safe by contrasting them with the widely known health hazards of tobacco cigarettes. This is not reassuring. After all, the Michigan public understands that smoking tobacco is one of the worst health risks that anyone can take.

As a primary care physician and public health official, I am concerned that the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are largely unknown. There is not a long enough track record to measure the long-term impact of inhaling vapor that contains toxins. .

Proponents of e-cigarettes claim that no one has died of vaping an e-cigarette. Failing to find harm now, in the first few years that e-cigarettes have been available, does not mean serious harm won’t occur.

Supporters of e-cigarettes also suggest they can help people quit smoking. Recent research indicates that vaping to quit smoking may be as effective as other approaches, such as nicotine patches, that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after extensive safety and effectiveness testing. But that’s a key point: E-cigarettes have not undergone safety testing by the FDA.

Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Gail Haines, R-Waterford, offers the Legislature the best road forward, which would classify e-cigarettes as tobacco and thereby prohibit sales to minors. It is consistent with the approach to e-cigarettes announced by the FDA in late April. However, the timetable for implementation of new FDA rules is uncertain. Therefore, it is imperative for Michigan to act on e-cigarettes now, to protect minors in our communities.

Using existing tobacco laws to prevent e-cigarette sales to minors is the right combination of efficient regulation and effective public health. The public should expect no less.

Dr. Matthew Davis is chief medical executive of the State of Michigan in the Department of Community Health. Davis is also a professor of pediatrics, internal medicine and public policy at the University of Michigan.

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