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Trump flavored vape ban puts Michigan Republicans in odd spot

Lansing — Michigan Republicans who blasted Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for banning flavored vape products stood by their criticism Wednesday as GOP President Donald Trump announced support for a similar nationwide policy. 

Less than a week after Whitmer announced her ban, federal Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters Wednesday at the White House that the Food and Drug Administration would soon issue guidance on how to take flavored vaping products off of the market.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs an executive directive Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, requiring the state to set up rules that would award more state contracts to small businesses in "geographically-disadvantaged" communities.

Although the federal process could take months, Azar indicated the rules still might make it possible for vaping products to gain FDA approval.

“People are dying through vaping, so we’re looking at it very closely," Trump told reporters as he noted wife Melania's concern and described e-cigarettes as a "new problem in the country."

Whitmer applauded the decision, saying she was “glad the Trump administration is following our lead to ban flavored vaping products. This is great news for our kids, our families and our overall public health.”

The developments prompted some liberals and Democrats to note the social media criticism of Whitmer's ban by Trump-supporting GOP lawmakers and wonder if they would stand firm.

“Wow. It’s gonna be crazy watching all these rightwingers — who complained about @GovWhitmer doing the same thing — direct their (totally consistent) fury at Donald Trump!” tweeted Eric Goldman, who managed Whitmer’s winning 2018 campaign.

But Trump's decision failed to move the Republican critics.

Rep. Beau LaFave, who referred to the governor as “Emperor Whitmer” after the Michigan ban announcement, said Wednesday his opinion on the policy hadn’t changed.

“Unlike some partisan hacks in this building, if I don’t like something under Gov. Whitmer, I’m not going to like it under President Trump,” said LaFave, an Iron Mountain Republican. “There is absolutely no scientific evidence that can link these e-cigarettes and/or flavors to these illnesses. From all available evidence, it’s marijuana e-cigarettes causing these hospitalizations.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday there are 450 possible cases of lung illness, five of which were fatal, associated with the use of e-cigarette products nationwide. While the agency hadn’t yet determined a specific substance or product related to the illnesses, many of the individuals involved also reported using e-cigarettes containing cannabis-derived products such as THC and CBD.

The next Speaker of the House, Lee Chatfield, R-Levering talks with Rep. Brett LaFave, R-Iron Mountain on the floor of the chamber.

The Republican-led House Oversight Committee plans to meet Thursday to discuss Whitmer’s ban and gather testimony on the impact it would have on the vaping industry. The committee was scheduled to proceed as planned even after Trump’s announcement.

“Gov. Whitmer’s declaration to ban an entire industry without public comment lacks the transparency that citizens deserve from their government,” Rep. Matt Hall, R-Marshall, said in a Tuesday statement announcing the hearing.

Trump’s flavored e-cigarette ban should be vetted by Congress just as Whitmer's ban should have been by the Michigan Legislature, said GOP Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford, who previously said Whitmer’s ban was “dismantling a legal industry.” 

“Maybe making this part of the discussion so we can have open debate amongst our legislators in D.C. would be a good idea,” Maddock said. “Something the governor didn’t do here.”

Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, had criticized Whitmer’s pending rules and said Wednesday the industry group is also “deeply disappointed” in Trump’s decision.

“A ban will remove life-changing options from the market that have been used by several million American adults to quit smoking,” Conley said in a statement. “In the history of the United States, prohibition has never worked. It didn’t work with alcohol. It hasn’t worked with marijuana. It won’t work with e-cigarettes."

But others were heartened by the developments.

Seeing similar responses from the Trump and Whitmer administrations seem to “back up that this is a serious public health issue,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., an East Lansing Democrat who serves on the Health Policy and Human Services Committee.

“I generally have a fairly libertarian attitude when it comes to these things,” Hertel said. “That being said, if there’s a public health issue, we all have to respond.”

Whitmer on Wednesday reiterated her arguments that vape companies are getting kids hooked on nicotine by marketing flavors like apple juice, bubble gun and candy.

“Banning these flavors is a bold step that will keep our kids healthy and safe from the harmful effects of vaping,” she said. “I’m proud that Michigan has been a leader on this issue, and I’m ready to continue working to protect our kids and our public health.” 

Whitmer is creating the Michigan rules under the auspices of a public health declaration by the state’s top doctor.

But the American Vaping Association said it appears the federal flavor ban may go through the normal rule-making process, “meaning that millions of vapers will have the chance to make their voices heard during an open public comment process.”