National Center Risk Analysis Division Director Comments on Michigan Governor Snyder’s Veto of Bill to Ban Sale of E-Cigarettes to Minors

stier_smNew York, NY / Washington, D.C. Jeff Stier, director of the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Risk Analysis Division, has the following comments about Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s veto of legislation to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors in Michigan:

The National Center for Public Policy Research is deeply disappointed that Governor Rick Snyder vetoed Michigan House Bill 4997, Senate Bills 667 and 668 today, which would have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and treated e-cigarettes differently than cigarettes.

The governor’s veto leaves Michigan as one of approximately ten states where the sale of e-cigarettes to minors remains legal. But worse, the governor went out of his way to suggest that cigarettes and e-cigarettes pose similar risks, a claim that will have deadly consequences.

In his veto statement, the governor parroted arguments of activist public health groups like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network that complain the legislation does not regulate e-cigarettes exactly the same as deadly cigarettes.

The governor’s twisted logic is a fascinating exercise in political sleight of hand.

The governor (at best) misconstrues how the Federal Food and Drug Administration plans to regulate e-cigarettes, and argues that if Michigan doesn’t treat e-cigarettes the same as deadly cigarettes, the state will “unnecessarily sow confusion, send [sic] a mixed health message to the public.”

However, as I wrote in a letter to the governor last week, treating e-cigarettes like cigarettes would undermine a central tenet of the U.S. FDA’s approach to securing the potential benefits of e-cigarettes, while minimizing any potential harm.

The FDA’s chief tobacco regulator, Mitch Zeller, told the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s NewPublicHealth, “The other example is if at the end of the day people are smoking for the nicotine, but dying from the tar, then there’s an opportunity for FDA to come up with what I’ve been calling a comprehensive nicotine regulatory policy that is agency-wide and that is keyed to something that we call the continuum of risk: that there are different nicotine containing and nicotine delivering products that pose different levels of risk to the individual.”

It is ironic that Governor Snyder would argue that when a Michigan bill does just what the FDA’s Zeller calls for, it is “not consistent” with FDA policy.

To say that treating e-cigarettes differently than combustible cigarettes would send a “mixed health message” is the kind of deadly double-talk I’d have expected from the tobacco industry in the 1970s. In fact, by insinuating that cigarettes and e-cigarettes carry the same risks and should be regulated the same, Governor Snyder sends a mixed message to Michigan smokers seeking a dramatically less harmful alternative to cigarettes. The consequences of the governor’s statement will be deadly because smokers who may have switched to e-cigarettes may be misled into thinking that e-cigarettes are just as harmful as smoking.

Why would the governor veto a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors just because the bill doesn’t give him everything he wants, such as a high tax on e-cigarettes?

If the governor wants to insist on an e-cigarette excise tax, he’s welcome to introduce a bill to do it, even had the legislation he vetoed today been law. If he wants an e-cigarette sin tax, he should make his best case. And we will explain to the public why it would be a bad idea for public health. Let’s have an airing of the issue through the democratic legislative process. However, the only logical reason he would have vetoed the ban on sales to minors was to use widespread support for this approach to gain support for the ideas he knows shouldn’t win on the facts, if they were up for consideration independently.

As I warned the governor in a letter last week, “Those approaches do not deserve any halo from the consensus of banning sales to minors. Conversely, a ban on sales to minors should not be delayed because some groups seek to advance approaches that aren’t supported by science and may undermine public health.”

The National Center for Public Policy Research calls on Governor Snyder to immediately remind smokers that there is widespread agreement in the public health community that smokers who switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes reduce their risks dramatically.

New York City-based Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and heads its Risk Analysis Division. Stier is a frequent guest on CNBC, and has addressed health policy on CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and network newscasts. Stier’s National Center op-eds have been published in top outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, Newsday, Forbes, the Washington Examiner and National Review Online. He also frequently discusses risk issues on Twitter at @JeffaStier.

Stier has testified at FDA scientific meetings, met with members of Congress and their staff, met with OMB/OIRA officials, and submitted testimony to state legislative hearings. He has testified about e-cigarette regulation before state legislatures and city councils in California, New York, Rhode Island, Oklahoma and elsewhere, and written about the topic for the Detroit News, New York Post, Huffington Post, Des Moines Register and elsewhere.

Stier previously worked in both the office of the mayor and in the corporation counsel’s office during the Giuliani administration in New York City. His responsibilities included planning environmental agency programs, legal analysis of proposed legislation, and health policy. Mr. Stier also is chairman of the board of the Jewish International Connection, NY. While earning his law degree at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, he served two terms as editor-in-chief of the Cardozo Law Forum.

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