WASHINGTON CITY – Originally tabled last year, an ordinance banning new tobacco specialty stores was unanimously passed by the Washington Council last week following some revisions.
The ordinance, originally presented to the council during a June 2016 meeting, governs the regulation, licensure and land use permitting the sales of electronic cigarettes and related products within the city, as well as prohibiting the establishment of any future tobacco specialty stores.
Broad language in the original draft of the ordinance troubled the owners of the city’s existing tobacco specialty shops as it seemed to paint a target on their respective businesses.
“The ordinance was either too strict or seen as a pretext to get rid of existing businesses,” Washington City Attorney Jeff Starkey said during the Jan. 10 Washington City Council meeting.
A large part of the debate that led to the ordinance being tabling related to the chance it could be used to revoke a tobacco specialty store’s city-issued license over a single offense.
The offense could involve selling e-cigarette products to a minor or having an alcohol- or drug-related incident occur within their business due to an employee’s indiscretion.
“It felt like the original ordinance was intended to be more of a sword than a shield,” said Brendon Gunn, owner of Cloud 9, one of Washington City’s three tobacco specialty stores.
The other stores are Mike’s Smoke Shop & Cigar gifts and Vapor Works. Unlike Mike’s Smoke Shop, Cloud 9 and Vapor primarily deal with the sale of e-cigarettes and associated products. They are counted as specialty tobacco stores as the primary ingredient in liquid used in e-cigarettes is nicotine, a tobacco product.
The ordinance that passed last week removed the language that seemed set up a pretext to eliminate the city’s existing tobacco specialty stores that are grandfathered in and allowed to continue.
While the ordinance allows these businesses to be sold to a new owner and to expand in their current locations, they are not allowed to relocate to a new spot within the city, Starkey said.
“Though I don’t completely agree with the ordinance, I think the city did a very good job of listening to the business owners and exercising all available resources to make a decision,” Gunn said.
The effort to ban specialty smoke shops in Washington City was brought to the council by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, Councilman Jeff Turek said.
Kye Nordfelt, director of health promotions for the department, said he was pleased to see the ordinance go through.
A large part of the health department’s push against e-cigarette use, also popularly known as “vaping,” is its high use among Washington County teens.
“For us, it’s a health-related issue,” Nordfelt said. “We’re seeing a significant rise in e-cigarette use among teenagers. We’re seen it rise about 350 percent over the last few years.”
That number comes from the results of a survey the health department conducted in the county with juveniles in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades. According to the results of the survey, which were released Jan. 8, high school seniors in Washington County use e-cigarettes slightly more than the national average. Many teens try e-cigarettes at 15 or younger, the health department said in a statement on the survey result.
“Nicotine is extremely addictive and has an especially negative impact on teen brain development,” the statement said. “E-cigarettes also provide a convenient drug delivery system for other drugs, like marijuana, which local law enforcement officers have found in these devices. Studies show that teens who vape are also two to four times more likely to try a traditional cigarette.”
On the other hand, researchers who published a study in October in Tobacco Control, a peer-reviewed journal covering tobacco use and its consequences, claim switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes may reduce the risk a premature death tied to smoking.
While crusading against teen e-cigarette use, Nordfelt has previously stated the health department hasn’t encountered problems with the specialty stores in Washington City selling products to minors.
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