Compelling Testimony Against Michigan's Ban on Flavored E-Cigarettes Highlights the Deadly Folly of the Vaping Crackdown

The real "public health crisis" is not underage vaping but the one that Michigan, New York, and the FDA are about to create.


Mark Slis, a 55-year-old father of three, smoked for 41 years and tried to quit for three decades with every method he came across, including hypnosis and various nicotine replacement products. Nothing worked until 2014, when Slis wandered into a vape shop in Houghton, Michigan. "Twenty minutes later," he told Michigan legislators last week, "I walked out a nonsmoker." A year and a half after that experience, Slis, who runs a geophysical consulting firm, bought the store. Since then, he said, he has helped about 1,000 other smokers quit by switching to vaping.

Slis drove 500 miles from Houghton to Lansing, the state capital, to testify against the ban on flavored vaping products unilaterally imposed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), which threatens to wipe out his business, drive his customers back to smoking, and prevent him from helping other people make a switch that could save their lives. If Whitmer's ban is allowed to stand, he said, "you won't just be banning flavors; you'll be banning a lifesaving industry from this state….That is absolutely unforgivable."

Slis tried to set the record straight about the e-liquid flavors that are supposedly designed to entice teenagers. "All my customers have three things in common," he said. "They are adults; they are desperate to quit smoking after years, if not decades, of failing; and they all use flavors….Ninety-nine percent of my customers use flavors. The flavors are absolutely necessary, and they are the key to quitting smoking." He described one customer, an 87-year-old grandmother, whose favorite flavor is the supposedly juvenile Fruity Pebbles. "I've heard people up there say that adults don't do these flavors," he said. "That's not true. I have 80 flavors chosen by adults. Not one of them chose tobacco flavor, the only one that will be left."

Slis also noted that Whitmer's ban, which makes possession of "four or more flavored vapor products" a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, will turn his customers into criminals. "All of my customers, every one of them, walk around with three or four bottles of different flavors," he noted.

Stephen Knight, owner of Vapejuice, an e-liquid manufacturer in Grand Rapids, echoed Sils' point about flavors. In a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Matt Hall, a Republican who represents parts of Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties, Knight said his company had developed more than 100 flavors, each of which has "helped tens of thousands of customers quit using combustible cigarettes." He said "less than 2% of our customers currently use our tobacco-flavored e-liquids"—the only kind that would be tolerated by Whitmer's ban, which was officially published yesterday and gives retailers two weeks to comply.

The committee also received letters from former smokers who used flavored vape products to quit. "Although wild speculation by anti-tobacco activists would have you believe that the range of flavors serves the sole purpose of enticing children, in reality, the variety of flavors plays a crucial role in helping people who smoke transition away from combustible tobacco," one said. "Prohibiting the sale of these products will discourage people who smoke from switching to safer alternatives."

Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, which supports vaping as a harm-reducing alternative to smoking, likewise emphasizes the importance of flavor variety. "There is a reason why the majority of adult ex-smokers who vape use fruit and sweet flavors, while only a very small portion use tobacco or menthol," he says. "Fruit and sweet flavors help adult smokers disconnect from the taste of smoking. Tobacco flavors, on the other hand, are actually linked to dual use, which is continuing to use both cigarettes and vaping products."

Sils' store, 906 Vapor, is one of more than 500 vaping businesses in Michigan, which employ thousands of people and serve tens of thousands of adults looking for an alternative to smoking. "If the governor's order stands and flavors are banned," he said, "I will immediately go out of business and file for bankruptcy. No question."

Similar results can be expected in New York, where the State Public Health and Health Planning Council this week approved "emergency" regulations backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) that prohibit the sale of vaping products in flavors other than tobacco and menthol. That ban will affect some 700 vaping businesses throughout the state and probably will force many to close up shop, depriving their customers of nicotine products that are far less dangerous than combustible cigarettes and nearly twice as effective in smoking cessation as conventional alternatives.

"Prohibition has never worked in this country, and it will once again fail miserably in the State of New York," Conley says. "There is blood on the hands of the unelected bureaucrats who fiddled with their phones while members of the public explained how this ban would cause disastrous public health consequences. Make no mistake about it, a flavor ban will send a significant number of adult vapers back to smoking."

Conley notes that the American Cancer Society, which is not keen on e-cigarettes, nevertheless worries about the consequences of banning them. "If that's what they choose, and they're not going to try any other way, then they should receive support and also be encouraged to stop using those products as soon as they're able, but never to resort to conventional cigarette smoking," Cliff Douglas, the organization's vice president for tobacco control, told Modern Healthcare this week. "If the result of stopping vaping is that people smoke Marlboros again, then that's a disaster. They're not equivalent."

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), whose former commissioner called e-cigarettes "a tremendous public health opportunity," nevertheless plans to inflict this disaster nationwide by ordering the removal of vaping products in flavors other than tobacco. President Donald Trump explained that ban by saying that "we are going to have to do something" about underage vaping. "While I like the Vaping alternative to Cigarettes, we need to make sure this alternative is SAFE for ALL!" he said on Twitter last Friday. "Let's get counterfeits off the market, and keep young children from Vaping!"

Preserving the "vaping alternative to cigarettes" is plainly inconsistent with a ban on the products that former smokers overwhelmingly prefer. And such a ban has absolutely nothing to do with "get[ting] counterfeits off the market." To the contrary, it will be a huge boost to the black market, which offers e-liquids that "have no controls on them whatsoever" (as Cuomo puts it) and may be contributing to the recent cases of respiratory illnesses among vapers (although the vast majority of those cases involve black-market cannabis products).

As for "keep[ing] young children from vaping," selling e-cigarettes to minors is already illegal. Instead of enforcing age restrictions, Michigan, New York, and the FDA are bent on denying adults an opportunity to quit smoking the way Mark Sils did. This policy is logically analogous to banning all sales of flavored alcoholic beverages because teenagers have been known to drink them.

Results from the 2019 Monitoring the Future Study, which the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) released yesterday, indicate that 25 percent of 12th-graders had vaped nicotine in the last month, while 12 percent had vaped on 20 or more days in the previous month. NIDA Director Nora Volkow calls that "a public health crisis." The same survey indicates that 30 percent of 12th-graders are past-month drinkers, but state and federal officials are not planning to bring back alcohol prohibition.

It's true that vaping is on the rise among teenagers, while drinking has been declining in recent years. But given the relative hazards of alcohol and nicotine, that's a pretty good trade. More to the point, the Monitoring the Future Study and other national surveys show that smoking among teenagers has reached record lows, a downward trend that accelerated as e-cigarettes became increasingly popular. That's an even better trade, since e-cigarettes are indisputably far less hazardous than the conventional kind. To the extent that teenagers are vaping instead of smoking, that is an unambiguous public health win.

The real "public health crisis" is not the one perceived by Volkow. It's the one that Michigan, New York, and the FDA are about to create by denying smokers access to potentially lifesaving alternatives.

NEXT: Government Employees Think People Hate Them. Increasingly, They're Right

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  1. As a stock holder in Altria, I approve of this ban.

    1. Altria owns JUUL dontch’a know?

      1. They have 35% of it.

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  2. There’s no “problem” that the government can’t make worse with prohibition.

    1. I can think of one: A prohibition on legislation.

      1. The problem is, there is not any legislating going on with any of these bans. They are all executive diktats. There are so many levels to the wrongness.

  3. This policy is logically analogous to banning all sales of flavored alcoholic beverages because teenagers have been known to drink them.

    You shouldn’t give them ideas. Sure, alcohol prohibition was already tried once and failed, but now there’s a much larger, more fell funded law enforcement apparatus (e.g., police state) than there was in the 1920’s. It just didn’t work back then because they didn’t prohibit hard enough. Mandatory death sentences for anyone caught with more than 2 fluid ounces of an alcoholic beverage ought to do the trick. /sarc

  4. A strident, repetitive, cherry-picked argument is rarely persuasive . . . except perhaps to a person paying for it.

    1. So, who’s paying for these stupid bans?

      1. Probably the same people who would object to nicotine-infused infant formula or opioid-infused teething rings.

        1. That is quite a string of pearls your clutching there.

          1. Well be fair, remember what life was like before the ban on nicotine-infused formula?

            1. It was the heroin infused cough syrup that really made it a party.

              1. Better Americans needed decades to curb the tobacco industry’s liars, shills, and profiteers.

                I doubt it will take nearly so long to address the vaping industry and its mouthpieces.

                1. I’m telling you guys, RALK is a parody troll. He’s the evil universe version of OBL, except that OBL’s parody is idiotic and based entirely on fantasy.

        2. Your mom probably popped you a few pills and put whiskey in your bottle

          1. The guy legit thinks inner-city Baltimore is the place to look for enlightened thought and tolerance; his mom likely did much worse.

        3. Yeah potatoes, tomatos, eggplant and bell peppers contain nicotone. Humans begin consuming it in the womb and have for millennia.

  5. I can think of one: A prohibition on legislation.


    1. Ok this was pretty good spamming.

  6. There must be a crack down on all vaping.
    Otherwise people will think they’re all adults and won’t need the nannies in The State to tell them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.
    Then where will we be?

    1. Wonder why Trump has joined the flavor banwagon? Does he hope to get a few soccer mommy votes from this, or think it will divert attention from the gun grabbers that he is “protecting” the youth?

      1. Purportedly his wife saw some hysterical shit on TV about American teens being transformed into nicotine obsessed zombies and told him to “do something about it”. Same with the opioid “crises”. This is what happens when chicks have too much time on their hands.

      2. NoVaNick, you really are reaching. And an idiot.

  7. Slis drove 500 miles from Houston to Lansing, the state capital…

    I’m pretty sure Houston is in Texas, which is a lot further than 500 miles. Houghton is what you mean, right?

  8. What I fail to understand is that you now have to be 21 to buy vapes (or any tobacco) in NY, CA, Virginia, and many other states. So the problem is with enforcement by the retailer. The media and most politicians don’t seem to get this, but of course “you can’t make someone understand something when it’s their job not to understand it “ (Upton Sinclair)

    1. You can get anything from the internet.

  9. Vaping is having the same problems that pot legalization had/has. The issue is that it’s being sold as a smoking cessation product when most people who vape continue to vape. This is a harm reducing alternative more than it’s a cessation device, even while it’s useful for quitting smoking. Pot legalization first progressed through the medical approach, even while it’s medical uses are mixed at best. Ultimately, people just wanted to use the chemicals they wanted to use but for some reason that approach doesn’t fly with the moral scolds.

    Nicotine use is considered a moral defect by a certain subset of both left and right politicians, and it’s also a government funding vehicle, all of which causes it to be demonized more than is probably warranted.

    It is striking that the first impulse of government agencies is to ban flavoring when they’re quoting literature to justify themselves that doesn’t relate to flavoring. If the ‘problem’ is people getting sick and dying, a ban on flavors isn’t the solution. Especially when the cause of the ‘sick and dying’ hasn’t been determined.

    1. “If the ‘problem’ is people getting sick and dying, a ban on flavors isn’t the solution.”

      Of course not. What’s needed is a ban on getting sick and dying. That’ll do the trick.

    2. Maybe we can do the same for nicotine vaping. Nicotine gum started out by prescription, now it’s over the counter. Maybe we can get nicotine vape being permitted state by state by prescription like medical marijuana, and then once there’s enough public confidence in it, move it to “recreational” (OTC).

      Presumably THC and CBD vape will go the same route.

      1. Maybe, although the trends are moving in opposite directions.

        Nicotine is going from legal to illegal whereas THC is going from illegal from legal. Not exactly, obviously, but those are the general trends.

        Either way it’s kind of a joke that states are openly rebelling against federal law over a substance classification. There are so many better reasons to buck federal statute, which tells you what people really care about I suppose. This is probably what an actual widespread grassroots movement looks like.

  10. >>Gov. Gretchen

    there’s your problem.

    1. Chicks. Whadda ya gonna do?

      1. honor the beauty and mock the ineptitude.

  11. Cigarettes are horrible and a major cause of death and disease.

    Anything to reduce the harm is worth doing.

    I have no problem restricting sales to minors but this flavor thing is ridiculous. What people want is the nicotine which does not cause cancer or emphysema.

    The vape disease cases is a serious matter but has been in the vast majority of cases linked to THC vapes or others cooked up by small time untested knockoff products with additives. Go after those.

    Where are the teens getting it? All of us were teens. Where did the pot, booze, and cigarettes come from then ? So we do the best we can.

  12. While the article hits on most all objections to the ban, it doesn’t talk about what happens with all the alleged teen vapers who’ve become addicted to nicotine. That’s a crisis in and of itself. It’s been frequently said that the MI governor does the bidding of Blue Cross, which was one of, if not The major contributor to her campaign [her dad used to be their CEO]. Blue Cross publications promote their smoking cessation programs, saying all the usual about how vaping is evil. Add in the scare tactics common nowadays in the media, and it’s tempting to think Blue Cross of MI has the goal of vastly boosting enrollment in their smoking cessation programs.

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