Flint, MI—Following suit with the federal government, many U.S. states along with Washington D.C., Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation last month that raises the legal age for tobacco sales in Michigan.

As part of the Tobacco 21 legislative package, House Bill 6108, which was approved by Whitmer, raises the minimum legal sale of tobacco, vapor and alternative nicotine products to individuals who are 21 years old from the age of 18, aligning Michigan with federal Tobacco 21 legislation.

Representative Tommy Brann, who sponsored House Bill 6108, said the legislation will first and foremost help preserve the wellbeing of Michigan communities. Further, he explained, it will reduce Medicaid costs related to smoking addiction. 

“It just saves lives,” Brann said. He continued, “I took an oath to protect the safety and health of Michigan people. To me, this bill makes sure I’m following that oath.” 

Beyond House Bill 6108, the legislative package includes House Bill 6109, which prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from entering a tobacco retail specialty store. The package also comprises Senate Bill 576, requiring the distribution of tobacco products via mail to include verification that the recipient is at least 21 years old. The latter two bills were signed by Whitmer as well. 

Carrie Chanter, Genesee Health System’s (GHS) director of prevention, health and wellness, said it’s high time for Michigan to pass the Tobacco 21 laws. Most of Michigan’s neighboring states, such as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania, have already passed Tobacco 21 laws, and Chanter noted that GHS is fully supportive of Michigan’s legislative package. 

“We need to do what the majority of other states do,” Chanter said, “which is limit or delay access of tobacco products to youth because of what we know the data shows. The earlier that youth are exposed to tobacco, the harder it is to quit.” She added that tobacco use is a major risk factor of vascular diseases, including stroke, heart attack and heart disease. 

On average, 16,200 adults in the state die from smoking annually, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). Even as the rate of tobacco use has declined over the years, it remains the leading cause of preventable deaths in Michigan. 

MDHHS shows that 4.5 percent of high school students in Michigan smoked cigarettes in 2019, compared to 38.2 percent in 1997. But health officials have become increasingly concerned with the rise of electronic cigarette products on the market. Experts say that much about vaping products remains unknown. Among electronic cigarettes’ health risks, however, research shows that youth and young adults who vape may be more likely to go on smoking cigarettes than their non-vaping peers.

In 2019, 20.8 percent of Michigan high school students were users of vape products, MDHHS states. With respect to Genesee County, 27.2 percent of high school students from 2019 to 2020 used an electronic cigarette during a 30-day period, compared to 18.8 percent within a 30-day period from 2015 to 2016.

Parents who are concerned about their children’s use of tobacco, or for that matter, alcohol and drugs, may consult with a primary care physician, Chanter said. Alternatively, she encouraged them to contact GHS for screening, resources and counseling on substance use. 

For more information: 

GHS can be reached at 810-257-3705.

Parents can call the Genesee County Prevention Coalition at 810-285-9047 for guidance on the warning signs of substance use among children. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides five guiding principles for conversations with children regarding substance use. 

The Michigan Tobacco Quitline can be reached at 800-784-8669 in English or 855-335-3569 in Spanish. 

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...