Politics & Policy

Thanks to Michigan’s New Vaping Rules, It Looks Like I’m Going to Prison

A man vapes outside a shop in East Liverpool, Ohio. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
These rules could quite easily end up having a detrimental effect on the well-being of Michiganders.

According to a leaked draft of Michigan’s potential “emergency” anti-vaping rules, it looks like I very well may be going to prison the next time I travel to my home state.

According to a piece in the Detroit News — co-written by Jesse Kelley, a criminal-defense attorney and the government-affairs manager for criminal justice at the right-leaning R Street Institute; and Carrie Wade, the director of harm-reduction policy at the same organization — the new rules may very well mean serious trouble for adults who choose to vape. Not only do they completely ban all flavored electronic tobacco products, but they also lay out some pretty stiff penalties for those who fail to comply. Specifically, they declare anyone possessing four or more flavored vape products to be “presumed to possess said items with the intent to sell,” an offense that is punishable by a fine and six months of imprisonment per item.

In other words: Simply because I happen to enjoy mango-flavored things, the typical contents of my purse could easily result in me being locked up in the slammer.

See, as Kelley and Wade note, many e-cigarette systems’ pods — including the popular Juul pods, which I happen to use myself — are sold in packs of four. So, basically, having ownership of even a single pack of the pods would be considered license to imprison me for half of a year.

Now, it’s not clear exactly what the rules mean when they state “per item.” It’s not clear whether or not you’d be punished for slightly longer than six months if you had, say, five pods on you but not eight, or if the punishments would only be doled out in six-month increments per four pods.

In any case, Wade maintains that the rules represent either a lack of knowledge about how pods are sold — or a well-informed, purposeful plan to allow imprisoning people for the possession of a single pack.

“It seems like the people who wrote these rules don’t actually know anything about Juul and how they’re sold,” Wade told me in a phone interview on Tuesday. “Or they do, and picking that number was deliberate.”

These rules — which, no doubt, were drafted under the guise of “public health” — could quite easily end up having a detrimental effect on the well-being of Michiganders. How? Well, they could lead to people choosing to smoke traditional, combustible cigarettes instead. This isn’t just my personal prediction either. It’s actually also the view of San Francisco’s top economist, who predicted that the city’s vaping ban would have exactly that result for its residents.

This is dangerous because e-cigarettes (although not probably not completely harmless) are widely accepted to be safer than combustible ones, with a Harvard study declaring that they are “almost certainly less lethal than conventional cigarettes.” In fact, Wade told me that, according to her research, they are approximately 95 percent less harmful — citing, specifically, a Public Health England study.

Despite these facts, however, many public officials — including even the president — have been scrambling to limit the availability of vaping products, often citing that it’s become a crisis among young people. Furthermore, the fight against these items seems to be gaining more support as the media reports more instances of them causing a mysterious lung illness, which has resulted in a reported seven deaths.

The truth is, however, the war against flavored nicotine pods in response to these illnesses is rooted more in media hysteria than in actual reality. See, when media report on these illnesses or deaths, they often state in the headlines that they were due to, simply, “vaping” — without making any mention of what drug the person had been vaping, or how he had obtained the pod or juice. This has resulted in many people being misled to believe that the problems are coming from vaping legal nicotine products, despite the fact that the vast majority of them have come from people vaping black-market THC products containing Vitamin E. Wade took it a step further, telling me that, in her professional opinion, all of the illnesses are almost certainly due to THC.

“It would surprise me if any of this was nicotine,” she said.

Wade explained her reasoning to me, saying that people may be simply “hesitant to admit” to the CDC that they had been using a marijuana product, especially if they are minors. She added that, due to the differences in chemical properties between nicotine and THC, she doesn’t “see a need for [the problematic] type of chemical to be in a nicotine product” period.

Basically, it seems as though most of the issues are clearly due to prohibition — and yet, the ever-wise government has decided to respond with . . . more prohibition? Honestly, I can’t even begin to try and wrap my head around how stupid that is.

In any case, when it comes to Michigan specifically, there may still be some hope. As Kelley and Wade note, the new, draconian rules have yet to be finalized — and hopefully, they never will be. Hopefully, government officials in the state will remember the importance of things like “personal freedom” and “harm reduction,” and reject things like “regulation in response to media hysteria.” Hopefully, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer (who claims to be doing this for the sake of keeping “kids safe”) will remember that in her state, 17-year-olds are tried as adults, and realize that, in most cases, a kid is going to be less safe in prison than he’d be at home with a Juul pod.

If not? Well, then I guess I hope all of you will come visit me when I wind up behind bars.

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