GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The announcement of Michigan’s pending ban on flavored e-cigarette products took everyone by surprise, with most finding out through a midnight posting by The Washington Post.
While health advocates are cheering the proposed ban as a way to keep the dangers of vaping away from children, those in the vaping industry are reeling.
“I never heard anything about it until this morning, so it was, ‘Hey, everybody, you’re going out of business,'” Vaughn Jurgens said.
He owns Grand Rapids E-Liquids on 28th Street at East Paris Avenue, one of the first vape stores to open a decade ago. Now, his thriving business is expanding next door. He sells the vape pens and accessories and makes 135 different flavors with names like Awesome Berry and Peachy Green.
“I’d have to say 60% of our business is our e-liquids,” Jurgens said.
He explained that vaping products have four ingredients: propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, which comes from one source; nicotine; and flavoring, which he says is no different from what’s used in cooking or candy making. He said the flavors are easy to get and easy for users to add themselves.
According to American Vaping Association, there are an estimated 500,000 people who have vaped in Michigan in the last month and some 200 vape-specific business generating more than $10 million per month in revenue.
Jurgens said the ban would have a devastating impact on his business.
“Well, I would probably have to shut down my stores and go through bankruptcy,” Jurgens said.
He said his store already checks IDs in the store and online to make sure products aren’t being sold to kids. He does not understand why this is happening now.
“I heard about it this morning when my phone was blowing up from my lawyers and my friend and my employees worried about their jobs and what effect it’s going to have on us as a business,” he said. Jurgens said he believes the ban will not stop vaping, but will rather only expand the black market and move sales out of Michigan.
“What would happen is they’d probably set up vape shops on the Indiana border and bring some back for their friends,” Jurgens said.
He said the industry is not going to take the ban lightly.
“Somebody’s going to file an injunction sooner or later on this deal and they’re going to stop in their tracks,” Jurgens said
Within hours of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement of that she would order the state health department to write emergency rules to enact the ban, which gained national attention, vape associations were quick to respond, calling the action ill-conceived and harmful to the multimillion-dollar industry. The state’s plan is heavy on promotion but light on details about enforcement.
Grand Rapids attorney Joseph Infante, who has litigated issues around vaping and the vape business, has questions.
“What are the rules, what are the regulations? I don’t even know if they’re going to come out in several weeks. It could be months before those come out,” Infante said.
He said the impact will be beyond just the vape shops.
“Convenience stores, grocery stores,” he listed. “Juul Is sold everywhere, so what’s going to happen to those?”
He added that much of the vape business happens online.
“I don’t know how the state’s going to regulate those online sales and can they regulate sales from, say, a store in California?” he said.
Infante said the ban on flavor seems redundant to laws that already exist.
“The question I have is whether it’s really going to solve the problem? The Legislature has already banned sales to minors, as it should have,” Infante said. “This is not the first time that a governor has tried to ban the flavored vape. New York tried to do it.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a similar ban last year, but it was quickly withdrawn for further legal review following pushback from the industry.
“I was talking to a client already today and they’re already aware of people preparing lawsuits to challenge it,” Infante said.
Infante said the immediate challenge would be to the governor’s power to enact such a plan without going through the Legislature first.
“There’s going to be a lot of lawsuits coming out of this. It’s going to be challenged,” he said.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Neessel on Wednesday praised the governor’s plan. She would defend the state if the industry makes good on threats to take the state to court.