By JOSH THALL
Capital News Service
LANSING — Banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors might make sense to a lot of Michigan residents, but one senator said bringing up new legislation this term could be a waste of time.
Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican, said legislation is at a standstill after Gov. Rick Snyder last month vetoed a bill that would have made e-cigarette sales to minors illegal. Snyder wants e-cigarettes to be regulated and taxed as tobacco products.
“The governor will not sign a bill that does not make them into tobacco cigarettes, so they get taxed like regular tobacco cigarettes,” Jones said. “And I don’t believe this legislature will pass that. Unfortunately, children under the age of 18 will continue to be able to legally purchase them.”
Jones, who sponsored part of the three-bill package addressing e-cigarettes last year, said there is no way electronic cigarettes should be considered a tobacco product, and that attempting to classify them as such is just an attempt to collect more taxes.
“This is a nicotine delivery device, similar to nicotine gum or a nicotine patch. Many people use it to get off of tobacco cigarettes,” Jones said. “That is a money grab, to put taxes on these devices. If they are classified as a tobacco cigarette, then they get huge taxes put on them.”
The tax on cigarettes in Michigan is $2 per pack, with a 32 cents per dollar tax on all other tobacco products. As of 2014, this was the 11th highest tobacco tax in the country. Total tobacco tax revenue in the 2013 fiscal year was at $957.5 million, a decrease of $5.7 million from the 2012 fiscal year, according to the office of revenue and tax analysis in the Michigan Department of Treasury.
Michigan is currently one of only 10 states that has not banned the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.
James Grant, the president of the Michigan State Medical Society, said he agreed with Snyder’s choice to veto the bills because electronic cigarettes should be considered a tobacco product.
“The rapid increase in e-cigarette use among young people is raising pretty serious questions within the whole health care community about the risk of long-term nicotine addiction in this whole new generation,” Grant said.
Grant says he thinks a reason for more people moving toward electronic cigarettes is that there is a perception they are not as bad for people as regular cigarettes.
Martha Hall, the environmental health director for Lenawee County Health Department, said she was pleased with Snyder’s veto and agrees that electronic cigarettes should be classified as a tobacco product.
Hall said there is not very much research or data on the effects of electronic cigarettes. She pointed out that nicotine is the addictive substance in tobacco, and electronic cigarettes have nicotine in them.
“I talk to people on a regular basis that would like nothing more than to quit using tobacco, but the nicotine has them,” Hall said. “So I think the nicotine is part of the issue, and since we do not have a clear picture of what the ingredients are in the e-cigarettes, I don’t think we can necessarily say where the nicotine is derived from.”
Jones said counties and cities could pass an ordinance that prohibits the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors if it becomes a larger problem.
“If the schools start complaining, it could happen,” Jones said. “A city could argue the state hasn’t done anything and so they want to make sure their gas stations and stores don’t sell this product to kids.”
Hall said while county regulations might be an option it is not something that Lenawee County is planning.
By JOSH THALL