- Associated Press - Monday, May 19, 2014

The Detroit News. May 14.

E-cigs aren’t cigarettes, and need their own regulations

In late April, the Food and Drug Administration proposed new regulations for electronic cigarettes. In Michigan, legislation has been introduced in the House to regulate them as tobacco products. Gov. Rick Snyder has said of the devices: “If it’s a tobacco product, treat it that way.”

But e-cigarettes, or “e-cigs,” aren’t tobacco products, and shouldn’t be classified as such.

Unnecessary restrictions on e-cigs - which are safer than tobacco products and often help smokers quit traditional cigarettes altogether - will squash innovation and likely incentivize smokers to maintain their deadly habits.

The FDA can’t point to any conclusive evidence e-cigs are harmful to one’s health, and says it needs to invest more into studies before it can determine health risks. It’s worth noting that one of the only studies so far on the issue, published in The Lancet, found e-cigs to be as or slightly more effective than other smoking cessation products.

Although the FDA plans to conduct more studies, it will try to regulate the devices as tobacco products in the meantime. But that’s putting the cart before the horse. As the agency learns more about the effects of e-cigs, it can offer regulations accordingly.

E-cigs are clearly a safer alternative than traditional cigarettes, which fill the lungs with damaging smoke byproducts.

The main component in e-cigs are cartridges filled with synthetic or tobacco-derived nicotine. It is mixed with other solvents and flavors. When a user breathes in, a small battery heats the liquids, which then become vapor.

If the nicotine is sourced from a tobacco plant, it is then purified and processed to pharmaceutical grade.

That means e-cigs contain the same type of nicotine as “nicotine replacement pharmaceutical products,” such as Nicorette or Nicoderm gums, patches, nasal inhalants and more. Since e-cigs are a similar product, they should be regulated as such.

The federal government promotes these as effective methods to stop smoking, and regulates them more like medicine, not cigarettes. Smokefree.gov even offers free advertising by outlining their affordability and effectiveness, while specifically warning consumers to stay away from e-cigs.

Yet most e-cigs contain less nicotine, or comparable amounts, per usage than government-sponsored smoking cessation products.

Some advocacy groups, such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, have been quite vocal in the fight against e-cigs. Certainly any product containing nicotine is unsuitable for children, and rules should be put in place to restrict use by minors.

But these decisions must also be transparent. On the campaign’s board sits the global vice president of government affairs and policy at pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, which owns the company that manufactures Nicorette products.

For the sake of those trying to lead healthier lifestyles, leaders should think twice before unduly regulating products that could save lives


Times Herald (Port Huron)

A-10 fleet should be preserved

Candice Miller is fighting to protect the A-10 Thunderbolt fleet. It is a battle the congresswoman and other A-10 advocates deserve to win.

Few Pentagon budget cut proposals have raised more protest than the Thunderbolt’s retirement. The plane, nicknamed “The Warthog” for its distinctive appearance, has a long and distinguished history that began in the Cold War and continues today.

The Obama administration’s 2015 budget proposes to eliminate the Thunderbolt fleet. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defends the elimination as efficient. It would save $3.5 billion through three years. Besides, he said, the fleet has lived beyond its effectiveness.

“The ‘Warthog’ is a venerable platform, and this was a tough decision,” Hagel said. “But the A-10 is a 40-year-old single-purpose airplane originally designed to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield.”

Combat ground troops have an opposite perspective. Most love the A-10 Thunderbolt, especially its GAU-8 Avenger, a 30-mm rotary cannon, the heaviest weapon on any plane.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno reiterated combat troops’ love for A-10 fleet when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month.

Rep. Miller supports a proposed National Defense Authorization Act amendment to preserve the fleet.

“When the U.S. Army’s chief of staff testifies before Congress about our ground troops’ reliance on and confidence in the A-10 fleet, Congress should listen,” Miller said in a written statement.

“Our troops put their lives in harm’s way for our liberty, and we need to make sure we do everything possible to protect them in battle, which is why I stand with my colleagues in the House and Senate to fight for the A-10 fleet and ensure that it remains a ready force for our ground troops until we can provide a suitable alternative.”

The A-10 fleet’s loss would be a major blow to the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Miller’s 10th Congressional District. The greater issue, however, is the harm the fleet’s elimination could pose to the U.S. military.

The demands of warfare have changed through the decades, but the Thunderbolt continues to be an effective weapon - one that combat troops value and support.

Miller is right to save the fleet.


Petoskey News-Review. May 9.

Food truck economy an opportunity to grow

Food trucks are not an uncommon sight in Northern Michigan. Every fruit-, stone- or sunset-inspired festival or fair burgeons with food vendors who show up to peer outside their windows and peddle burgers and hot dogs, popcorn and sweet treats - all from the confines of a food truck.

Now it seems more and more folks want to operate such food trucks outside typical celebration times and it’s spurred some community discussions about whether that idea is appropriate. Should these trucks be allowed to operate outside of festivals? How about where can they set up shop - or, truck? And if allowed, what kind of restrictions are reasonable and fair?

There seems little legitimate reason to hamper these business start-ups - particularly in this Northern Michigan economy still struggling with impacts of the Great Recession - when the area could use all the economic development that organically comes along. In fact, there are several reasons why these food truck vendors should be welcomed into our communities.

Food trucks and traditional restaurants maintain different customers, for starters. Those looking for nice ambiance, with a sit down menu to peruse and a warm, accommodating service experience should seek out nice restaurants for a meal. That’s the traditional fine-dining model.

However, those who are instead pressed for time, on the move, dressed inappropriately or simply craving something more along the lines of hand-held festival fare, are far less apt to wait around for an open table. Also, price ranges also tend to be lower for food trucks and contrarily, more elevated for restaurants. The food generally is less expensive than at restaurants, the wait times are shorter and if a mobile food truck weren’t available, theses customers are the type to just go on home to make dinner, rather than asking a hostess to add their party to the waiting list.

When it comes to locations where food trucks should be allowed, established restaurateurs’ concerns about unfair competition can be fairly weighed and considered. It would be inappropriate, for example, for a food truck vendor to be permitted to set up shop right outside a brick-and-mortar Main Street restaurant. But what about at parks, beaches and otherwise empty parking lots? These are the types of places where people might take a brown bag lunch with them, or again, just go on home to make a meal, instead.

It seems a wasted economic development opportunity to deny food truck vendors the right to operate in Northern Michigan. Municipalities ought to take advantage of this chance to establish reasonable restrictions that can accommodate both restaurants and food truck vendors, bring in some extra public revenue through local registration fees and even dictate operating hours to minimize outdoor bustle and noise late at night.

Food trucks can help create a more vital economic community and a more hip, happening business district. It makes perfect sense to consider rules and restrictions about locations, hours and health code adherence, of course, but an outright ban on food trucks seems foolish and at the very least, anti-capitalistic in an economically struggling region.

It seems the best plan of action is to follow the model created by Boyne City, whose leaders hosted public input sessions and worked to draft an ordinance to allow food trucks to operate according to clear rules and restrictions. East Jordan officials now work toward such regulations, and communities such as Charlevoix and Harbor Springs already allow food trucks in certain circumstances.

Not every food-related business will make it in Northern Michigan’s fickle economy, but shouldn’t those enterprising enough to give it a try be allowed to do so - even in a truck?


The Holland Sentinel. May 11.

Does a ‘skills gap’ threaten the economy?

What’s the biggest threat to Michigan businesses today? Weak national demand? Excessive regulation? The Affordable Care Act? In his visit to Holland last week, Gov. Rick Snyder had a different answer - a shortage of workers with the talent needed for jobs in the modern economy, a gap that creates the paradox of many positions going unfilled at a time when unemployment remains high and wages stagnant.

“No. 1 on my list is talent,” Snyder said at Wednesday’s Tulip Time Festival Luncheon. “We’re going to have a serious skills gap.”

In raising the topic, Snyder waded into an intense national debate over how to close the skills gap - and whether it exists at all. Business surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest employers are leaving jobs unfilled, even if it means forgoing sales growth and expansion, because they can’t find the right people, especially in skilled trades and advanced manufacturing.

Economists are divided, with some, such as Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, arguing the skills gap is a myth disguising an unwillingness to raise wages. But Valorie Putnam, director of Thompson M-TEC, an adult job-training center run by the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, believes the skills gap is very real locally, exacerbated by this area’s falling jobless rate: “It’s steady and it’s increasing.” The shortage, says Doug Bagley, M-TEC’s business development coordinator, is most acute locally for machining, tool making, welding and maintenance technician jobs. “A lot of people just didn’t get that training,” he says. Local employers unable to fill jobs, Bagley says, often turn to automation, which in turn demands even more advanced skills for the workers who run the systems.

What’s undeniable is that too many young people are graduating from high school and college and finding themselves unprepared for the available jobs. One potential solution touted by Snyder is a German model dating back to medieval times - the apprenticeship. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. recently launched the Michigan Advanced Technician Training program at four community colleges on the east side of the state, which allows students to earn an associate’s degree while working at companies that pay their tuition. Students earn an hourly wage and weekly stipend, and in return commit to working for the supporting employer for at least two years after graduation. As Michigan started its program, the Obama administration committed $100 million to expand apprenticeship programs nationwide.

The apprenticeship model has provided German manufacturers a steady stream of skilled workers and helped keep them internationally competitive despite the country’s high cost structure. Putnam and Bagley see value and promise in apprenticeships, but say they’re not sure how many American companies would be willing to fully embrace the German model, given the investment in time and money in apprentices who can easily take their training to another workplace.

America also needs a cultural shift to re-instill interest and respect for skilled trades and manufacturing jobs. As Snyder noted to The Sentinel, the drive to increase the number of young people going to college - a worthy goal we shouldn’t shrink from - has undervalued what we used to call vocational education. Skilled trades and advanced manufacturing, despite their very good pay, lost respect as everyone concentrated on four-year degrees. “Parents and kids are not looking at these options,” Snyder said.

Contrary to popular belief, manufacturing is not dead in America, especially not in Holland. Many experts predict the U.S. is the next global manufacturing powerhouse’ that won’t require more workers, but it will demand more highly trained ones. Our economy needs more college graduates, especially in engineering and the sciences, but it’s a mistake to say everyone needs a four-year degree. What’s more accurate is to say all young people should get advanced training after high school.

It’s clear to us the skills gap is real, and correcting the mismatch will take an investment of time and money by employers, economic development agencies, schools and job candidates, but just as importantly a change in mindset to help better prepare future workers.



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