By Jodi Radke, Jared Burkhart And Andrew Schepers
Let’s be perfectly clear: There’s no such thing as harmless tobacco.
All tobacco products have lasting health consequences — from mouth and throat cancers and lung disease to cardiac health and even stroke — and the earlier in life a person begins using tobacco, the more dangerous those consequences can be. To truly put a stop to the youth tobacco epidemic in our country, all flavored tobacco products, which target young people, must be eliminated.
There’s been a lot of progress in the fight to keep tobacco products out of the hands of young people in recent months, both in Michigan and nationally. Concerned Americans are aggressively working together to protect children from the dangers of tobacco, but we still face many obstacles as tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, hookah and smokeless tobacco continue to cause far too many deaths each year nationwide.
As a result of recent action by Congress, the minimum age of sale for all tobacco products in this country, including e-cigarettes, is now 21. This change became law on Dec. 20, 2019, but the state will still need to do its part to enforce its tobacco control laws effectively. As of Feb. 6, there is now a nationwide restriction on some cartridge-based e-cigarette products. This action stopped far too short — dangerous menthol-flavored e-cigarettes as well as other flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco are still available.
Gov. Whitmer took a stand against the youth e-cigarette epidemic last year and, while her efforts are being held up in the court system, we must do more to keep moving Michigan’s tobacco control efforts forward. That is why we have formed a new alliance that’s working hard to keep all tobacco products out of the hands of our young people and to help adults quit. The Keep MI Kids Tobacco Free Alliance, is composed of more than 50 organizations committed to this cause. While we are proudly co-chairing this effort, the alliance includes a wide variety of public health organizations and associations, hospital systems, education groups and others.
Our mission is to protect young people from the dangers of tobacco products. The alliance is ready to work with Gov. Whitmer and the Legislature to strengthen Michigan’s laws, so they better protect young people from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. We seek to ensure Michigan adopts legislation to change the state age of sale to 21 for all tobacco products, permanently end the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, and define and regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products.
In February, legislation was introduced in the Michigan Senate that is a great starting point to addressing some of our concerns. While we are encouraged by this effort, the initial legislation lacks critical details and accountability that we believe are essential to truly protecting young people from the growing youth e-cigarette epidemic. Our kids deserve strong public policy that will fix this problem now and protect generations to come, not just make incremental progress to get something done. The Keep MI Kids Tobacco Free Alliance stands ready to work with lawmakers to do just that.
About the authors: Jodi Radke is from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Jared Burkhart is with the Michigan Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, and Andrew Schepers works with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. They are co-chairs of the Keep MI Kids Tobacco Free Alliance.