Author: Elizabeth Hicks

The Real Consequences the Proposed Vaping Flavor Ban in Columbus

Columbus is considering putting an end to the sales of menthol cigarettes and flavored vapes. Although official legislation hasn’t been formally introduced, tobacco-control advocates who are drafting the proposal are claiming a ban would help decrease smoking rates amongst Black people, other groups of color, women, and LGBTQ populations.

Sadly, over 20,000 Ohioans lose their lives to cigarette smoking-related illnesses every year. Considering that studies have shown vaping to be 95% less harmful than smoking and that adults who used flavored vaping products were 2.3 times more likely to quit smoking cigarettes, ensuring that adult consumers in Columbus have access to the vaping products they prefer will ultimately lead to fewer cigarette smoking-related deaths in Ohio. 

It’s estimated that more than 5% of Ohio’s adult population uses vaping products, accounting for over 634,000 Ohioans who have switched to a healthier alternative to combustible tobacco. Banning flavored vaping products will encourage these former smokers to switch back to smoking cigarettes, and will ultimately lead to increases in smoking-related healthcare costs, which are already costing Ohioan taxpayers $1.85 billion annually.

Advocates for the ban claim that it wouldn’t outlaw flavored vaping products or menthol cigarettes within Columbus, just the sale of said products and that consumers wouldn’t be punished for buying products elsewhere and bringing them into the city. Not only would this plan greatly harm small businesses who sell vaping products, but it would also effectively set up a dangerous illicit market within Columbus where bad actors could easily take advantage of consumers by selling them unregulated faulty products which could cause serious health concerns. 

Additionally, although the flavor ban intends to help minority groups of color, the reality of setting up an illicit market is that it will further exacerbate interactions between law enforcement and consumers of these products. One of the most infamous examples of this is the tragic death of Eric Garner, who was killed by police in New York after being approached on suspicion of selling untaxed individual cigarettes. 

Implementing a ban on flavored vaping products and menthol cigarettes within Columbus will have serious unintended consequences. Instead of a ban, more tobacco harm reduction efforts must first be explored such as increasing educational outreach to specific communities as well as encouraging vapes and smoke-free tobacco products as a tool for cessation. 

Elizabeth Hicks is the U.S. Affairs Analyst and David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center. 

Court battle continues over the legal use of vaping products

As the legal use of vaping products continues to be argued in court, a debate also continues on whether a ban would send vapors back to regular cigarettes.  

Juul can continue to sell its electronic cigarettes after a federal appeals court in June blocked an FDA ban. 

To stay on the market, companies must show that their e-cigarettes benefit public health. Essentially, that means proving that adult smokers who use vapes are likely to quit or reduce their smoking, while teenagers are unlikely to become hooked on them.   

This week for a third time in four decisions, a federal appeals court has denied an Illinois-based vaping manufacturer’s petition for review of an FDA marketing denial order. A three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the FDA, denying the appeal by Gripum LLC, which makes bottled e-liquid under several names. 

In Illinois, there’s talk of placing a ban on all flavored tobacco and vapes in the state, but legislation has yet to move out of committee. 

Elizabeth Hicks, U.S. Affairs analyst with the Consumer Choice Center, warned that enacting a flavor ban for vaping and tobacco products would push consumers to switch back to smoking combustible tobacco.

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Michigan law makes fight for municipal broadband an uphill battle

For more than a decade, municipalities around the United States have been starting their own government-run broadband networks to bring high-speed internet to their residents. 

They might do so for a variety of reasons: to provide residents faster service at a lower cost, to encourage economic development, to provide high-speed internet to areas that private Internet Service Providers aren’t interested in serving, or to bring more economical connections to urban areas where residents can’t afford the service provided by private ISPs.

But due to laws on the books in Michigan, cities can face significant obstacles in starting their own network.

Michigan is one of 18 states that put restrictions on municipal broadband programs. Under the Metropolitan Extension Telecommunications Rights-of-Way Oversight Act of 2002, public entities can provide telecommunications services only if they have first requested bids for the services and received fewer than three qualified bids. They also must subject themselves to the same terms as those specified in their Request for Proposal.

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US: Illinois Bill Would Ban Flavoured Vaping Products

Senate Bill 3854, would include all flavoured products including THC vaping devices, heat-not-burn systems and chewing tobacco products. “(1) “tobacco product” includes products containing tetrahydrocannabinol and products containing a mixture of tetrahydrocannabinol and nicotine, and (2) “tobacco retailer” includes dispensing organizations and dispensing organization agents, as those terms are defined in the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act. Creates a presumption that a tobacco product, related tobacco product, alternative nicotine product, or solution or substance intended for use with electronic cigarettes is a banned product, solution, or substance intended for use with electronic cigarettes if it has or produces a characterizing flavor,” reads the bill proposal.

In line with arguments by tobacco harm reduction experts, Elizabeth Hicks from the U.S. Affairs analyst with the Consumer Choice Center, said that enacting a flavour ban for vaping products, will just lead former smokers back to smoking.

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mpulsan legislación que prohibiría el Tabaco con sabor y los Vaporizadores en Illinois

Un grupo de defensa del consumidor dice que una medida que prohibiría los productos de tabaco con sabor en Illinois, incluidos los vaporizadores, podría hacer más daño que bien.

La senadora estatal Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, ha sido una firme partidaria de prohibir los productos de tabaco con sabor, que dijo que están dirigidos intencionalmente a los niños con nombres parecidos a dulces. Ha presentado el Proyecto de Ley del Senado 3854, que prohibiría la venta de todos los productos de tabaco con sabor, incluidos cigarrillos, cigarrillos electrónicos y tabaco de mascar. La medida permanece en una comisión del Senado.

Elizabeth Hicks, analista de Asuntos de EE. UU. del Consumer Choice Center, dijo que la promulgación de una prohibición de sabor para los productos de vapeo impulsará a los consumidores adultos a volver a fumar tabaco combustible en un momento en que fumar cigarrillos ha tenido una tendencia a la baja en Illinois.

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Avoid government-run broadband when connecting Michigan residents

Soon, Michigan will be awash with cash to boost broadband coverage.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021, allocates at least $100 million to expand broadband and internet coverage in Michigan. In addition, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office recently announced the state will spend $5.2 million from the federal CARES Act to conduct an audit identifying gaps in high-speed internet access throughout the state.

It is apparent that Michigan residents deserve access to reliable high-speed internet. However, as the state decides how and where to bolster broadband infrastructure, it is critical that they prioritize providing quality broadband service to consumers without wasting taxpayer money through municipal or government-run broadband.

The pandemic has showcased that access to high-speed internet is continuing to become increasingly important as many continue to rely on broadband to stay connected to work, school, telehealth or other crucial facets of daily life.

It’s estimated that 8.9% of Michigan residents live in an area that does not provide acceptable internet speed due to a lack of broadband infrastructure, leaving over $2.5 billion in projected potential economic benefit that is lost among those disconnected from the internet within the state.

To be fair, many small cities across the country are getting the same pitch from biased municipal broadband consultants: If you want faster or more reliable internet, then you should build and operate the network yourself. It might sound promising, but the reality is that these networks have been proven to be expensive and ineffective.

According to a report from the University of Pennsylvania, of the 20 municipal broadband projects in the U.S. they studied, only two earned enough to cover their project costs during the useful life of the networks, with the other 18 being absolute failures.

Existing municipal broadband networks within Michigan are suffering a similar fate. Marshall, for example, launched its own municipal fiber broadband network called FiberNet, which cost $3.1 million in loans from other city accounts. Concerns have been raised about Marshall’s municipal broadband network as the city continuously missed payments on their broadband loans, sparking fear that the network will not be financially viable enough to offset the operating costs, potentially leaving taxpayers on the hook.

For perspective, broadband services from private providers are also available in Marshall. Companies like WOW and AT&T both offer the same speeds as FiberNet, but at lower prices for consumers.

A better solution to close the digital divide in Michigan and help broadband consumers would be to bolster competition. Many private broadband service providers are able to expand or upgrade their services where there is demand, without burdening taxpayers like municipal broadband networks do.

According to a Phoenix Center study, prices in markets with a municipal provider are higher than those in markets without one; therefore having private broadband providers available in an area is even more beneficial for consumers as competition will help keep prices low.

In rural areas or places where demand for broadband services are limited, local regulators could consider issuing vouchers to subsidize service to those who qualify.

Additionally, innovative solutions like Starlink, which aims to provide low-cost satellite broadband internet access across the globe, should be encouraged. This would ensure that all Michigan residents could get connected to reliable internet, without the need for a costly or unreliable municipal broadband network.

As more funding is being allocated to broadband infrastructure, state and local regulators must recognize that municipal broadband networks are generally ineffective and financially irresponsible.

In order to close the digital divide in Michigan and help broadband consumers throughout all parts of the state, we must embrace private competition and only subsidize networks in unserved areas through competitive bidding.

Originally published here

Legislation would ban flavored tobacco and vapes in Illinois

A consumer advocacy group says a measure which would ban flavored tobacco products in Illinois, including vapes, could do more harm than good. State Sen. Julie Morrison has a bill filed that impacts flavored tobacco products she says are being targeted toward children. But Elizabeth Hicks from the Consumer Choice Center says a trend of fewer Illinoisans smoking cigarettes would reverse if the bill is passed.

Read more here

Legislation would ban flavored tobacco and vapes in Illinois

A consumer advocacy group says a measure that would ban flavored tobacco products in Illinois, including vapes, could do more harm than good.

State Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, has been a steadfast supporter of banning flavored tobacco products, which she said are intentionally targeted to children with candy-like names. She has introduced Senate Bill 3854, which would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco. The measure remains in a Senate committee.

Elizabeth Hicks, U.S. Affairs analyst with the Consumer Choice Center, said enacting a flavor ban for vaping products will push adult consumers to switch back to smoking combustible tobacco at a time when smoking cigarettes has been trending down in Illinois.

“About 12% of adults in 2020 reported smoking, however, if this bill passes, we can certainly expect that number to increase,” Hicks said.

Read the full article here

Someone has to pay for student debt forgiveness and it doesn’t solve the problem

Elizabeth Hicks was invited to Steve Gruber Show to talk about student loan forgiveness

Listen to the interview here

Government regulations would threaten this beloved Christmas symbol

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, harsh government regulations are putting you in jeopardy.

With Christmas so close, many of us in Michigan have enjoyed a common holiday tradition this year: finding the perfect fresh Christmas tree to put up in our home. Unfortunately, harsh state regulations could put Michigan’s Christmas tree production in serious jeopardy.

Christmas trees are a big deal in this state, so much so that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently declared December “Michigan Christmas Tree Month.” Ranking third in the nation for the number of Christmas trees harvested, Michigan provides about 2 million trees to the national market every year, generating roughly $40 million in value.

With over 500 Christmas tree farms over 37,000 acres within the state, this industry is massively important and affects many Michigan residents.

However, growing Christmas trees is no easy feat. According to the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, it takes about seven years to grow a tree to commercial height, although it can take as many as 15 years in some cases.

Additionally, it is common for tree farms to plant around 2,000 trees per acre, although only about 1,250 on average survive as infestations from pests, insects and disease are common. Fortunately, there are many innovative solutions to prevent infestations and ensure that Christmas tree farmers are able to optimize their yields.

One of the innovative solutions listed in Michigan State University’s 2021 Michigan Christmas Tree Pest Management Guide is neonicotinoids or neonics, a type of insecticide with a chemical structure similar to nicotine.

Neonics have been used extensively in agriculture because they effectively target insects and pests while being significantly less harmful to wildlife than most other insecticides.

Unfortunately, there have been calls to restrict neonics in Michigan that would result in severe economic harm to our Christmas tree farms. Just earlier this year, a bill was introduced to the Michigan House that contained language banning the use of neonics, claiming that the insecticide would kill bee populations.

At one time, many believed that a decline in bee populations were a result of widespread use of neonics and substitutes such as sulfoxaflor, although this has since been debunked. In reality, the supposed drop-off in honeybee colonies was a result of how beekeepers tracked the number of bees they managed. According to research from an international group of ecologists, the number of global honey bee colonies has actually increased by 85% since 1961.

If neonics were banned in Michigan, it could economically destroy the state’s Christmas tree farms and industry, leaving many farmers out in the cold after working tirelessly to make our holidays special over the years.

Instead, legislators should “branch” out from bad policy and embrace the innovative scientific solutions that will keep Christmas in Michigan merry and bright.

Originally published here

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