COLUMN: A hazy future for vapes

Strange times are upon us in Michigan.

I always knew one day we would see the effects of the vaping trend that has grown exponentially over the last few years, especially in our generation and younger. I suppose we should have been suspicious about everyone just accepting the idea that vaping was safe for you and much healthier than cigarettes.

After the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reported it was investigating six cases of e-cigarette/vaping related lung infections in Michigan, it declared that youth vaping gives reason for a public health emergency for the state, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement.

Then, on Wednesday, Sept. 4, the news broke: all online and retail sales of flavored nicotine vaping products will be temporarily banned.

The ban is not by Whitmer’s executive order, but through the state’s administrative rules process, according to the Detroit Free Press. This allows state agencies, in this case MDHHS, to create a regulation or policy that act as a law once authorized. The ban is set to be effective in a couple weeks and will last six months, giving businesses 30 days to comply.

The whole premise behind this ban is protecting our youth, but Whitmer already banned sales of nicotine products to minors June 4. In the three months since she banned sales to minors, has it really been long enough to determine if it was effective or not? Has it really been enforced?

This ban seems extreme. I also believe that was the point; Michigan is the first state to ban the sale of flavored nicotine products and Whitmer wanted to make a statement.

I just don’t think this was the most productive way to solve this issue. Why not just strictly enforce the ban you made earlier this summer? It would accomplish exactly what Whitmer is saying she wants the new ban to do: protect our youth. So why not just actually enforce the original ban more strictly?

This ban is going to hurt local businesses that you’ll find in nearly every city in Michigan. National companies won’t be hurt by this, but six months is a long time for smaller businesses to be prohibited from selling the majority of their products. While local Big Rapids stores like Rise Smoke Shop will continue to make money from other merchandise related to other forms of smoking, the E-Cig Outlet sells primarily vaping products. Will we see them still open in six months? I’m not sure.

I respect the stand Whitmer takes trying to protect our youth, I really do. We’re at the point where middle schoolers are vaping and Juuling and getting addicted to nicotine at 13 years old. However, I disagree with her take that it was mainly the flavors that appeal to kids.

Kids didn’t start vaping because it tasted good. They did it because it was cool and all their friends started doing it. Teens used to smoke cigs because it was cool, not because it tasted good. Sure, the flavors now may be appealing, but the idea of it being the cool thing to do was a more powerful variable in this situation. Unflavored or tobacco-flavored products will still be on the market, so kids who are actually addicted to nicotine and need their buzz will most likely just switch to those.

The fact of the matter is, there is so little research on the after effects of vaping and there’s not much regulation on how juices are made. If anyone is surprised about the recent increase — 215 cases nationwide — of vaping related lung infections, you haven’t been paying attention.

When you vape, you are literally inhaling chemicals and water straight into your lungs. One Juul pod is the same amount of nicotine as 20 cigarettes. Why did we think this was healthier than cigarettes, again?

Sure, we haven’t seen any cases where vaping has caused cancer. But someone died from the ambiguous vaping-associated lung disease on Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s just as bad, in my opinion.

But I don’t think this will curb the vaping trend. We’ve known for years that cigarettes cause lung cancer, but people still do it. It now seems like vaping is starting to cause a lung disease that I’m sure will have a name soon, but I doubt people will stop vaping.

Here’s my issue: I think it’s wrong that Whitmer is banning flavored e-cigarette sales when cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana are still legal.

That might be the strangest part of it all, the fact that weed is legal here but we just banned flavored vaping. How many kids will start smoking weed now that they can’t get a buzz off of their Juul? Only time will tell, but if I had to guess, marijuana sales will rise during this vape ban.

All in all, it might be too late to end teen nicotine addictions. At least right away. This ban is only going to hurt local businesses and adults who were legally buying vape products to wean themselves off of cigarettes.