WASHINGTON CITY – A ordinance that would effectively ban the creation of new “tobacco specialty” stores in Washington City was tabled Wednesday. The City Council decided to delay action on the measure after hearing worries from business owners concerning language – or more specifically a lack thereof – related to steps leading to the potential revocation of their local business licenses.
In a 4-1 vote, the City Council voted to table the zoning ordinance governing 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 store.
Washington City is currently host to three businesses classified as tobacco specialty stores. Owners of two of those stores were present to express their worry over a specific part of the ordinance.
While the three businesses in Washington City would be allowed to continue operating under the proposed ordinance, a provision in the section concerning actions that could lead to the revocation of their business licenses worried Brendon Gunn, of Cloud 9 Vapor, and Samantha Kelvington, of Vapor Works.
The provision, Gunn’s attorney Benjamin L. Wilson argued, was too broad and allowed for his client to potentially lose his city-issued business license over a single offense.
Tobacco specialty stores are required to have a license to operate – a local business license as well as a license issued though the Utah Tax Commission.
“It appears to my client that this particular provision is more a sword and not a shield,” Wilson said.
According to the language of the proposed ordinance that Wilson read back to the council, either Cloud 9 or Vapor Works could have their business licenses revoked if one of them sold e-cigarette products to a minor or had an alcohol- or drug-related incident occur within their business.
So if an employee sold products to a minor or showed up to work drunk or high, that could be grounds for a license revocation, Wilson said.
Both Gunn and Kelvington said they shouldn’t necessarily face the risk of being shut done over an employee’s actions – at least not after a single incident.
“Maybe there’s a word here we need to consider, and that’s ‘reoccurring,’” Councilwoman Kolene Granger said.
Gunn and Kelvington agreed, both saying that should be considered in the ordinance. They also said they supported another suggestion Granger made concerning a fine system.
Councilman Jeff Turek said what the council would really be looking for was a pattern of unlawful activity, not necessarily a single incident.
“We need the opportunity to show responsibility as business owners,” Gunn said. “I’m asking you to be reasonable with our businesses and asking not to lose a license based on one claim.”
While much of the discussion concerned the license revocation provision, City Attorney Jeff Starkey said there are health concerns related to the use of electronic cigarettes, adding that, that industry has exploded over the last decade.
Kye Nordfelt, director of health promotions for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, told the council that the use of e-cigarettes among teens has jumped 300 percent in recent years and that the tobacco industry has a long history of targeting kids.
As e-cigarettes use nicotine, which is a product of tobacco, it has been claimed they can be as addictive as regular cigarettes.
E-cigarettes themselves can prove to be a very convenient delivery system for the nicotine and even illicit drugs, Nordfelt said.
While supporters of e-cigarettes say they can help people move away from smoking, Nordfelt does not agree.
“To say it’s harmless, that’s not true,” he said.
Still, while he expressed his support for the ordinance’s passing, he also told the council the health department had never had any problems with Cloud 9 or Vapor Works.
“These guys have a good record,” he said.
Ultimately Granger motioned to table the ordinance so it be tweaked to address the concerns raised during the meeting,. The motion passed with a 4-1 vote with Council Members Garth Nisson, Troy Belliston, Turek and Granger carrying the majority vote to Councilman Kurt Ivie’s “nay” vote.
“More consideration tends not to make legislation worse,” Starkey said following the vote.
If passed in the future, Washington City will join other Southern Utah cities like St. George and Cedar City in banning future tobacco specialty stores.
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