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BOC unanimously approves revised vaping ordinance
FB DCN Government County

The Dawson County Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve a new ordinance restricting the purchasing, possession and use of vape products, including e-cigarettes.

The new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020, raises the legal age to purchase, possess, or use any “alternative nicotine products or vapor products” to 19, one year older than the current age set forth by the state.

This follows a trend of increasing age restrictions for tobacco and alternative nicotine products across the country. Currently, 18 states and more than 500 localities have increased the tobacco and, in most cases, vaping age to 21, including Smyrna, Georgia.

The ordinance also restricts the locations where citizens may use vape products. Starting at the turn of the new year, it will be illegal to vape “within 300 feet of any church building, or on any property owned or leased to a church, other than in designated areas, if any,” or “within 600 feet of any school building, educational building, school grounds, or college campus, or on any property owned or leased to a public or private school or school board for elementary or secondary education, other than in designated areas, if any.”

The new law also focuses heavily on the display and business side of vaping. Any store selling vape products must now “maintain its entire inventory of alternative nicotine product and/or vapor product and any additional line of devices in a screened area,” meaning it will now be illegal “for a person to allow any item of alternative nicotine product or vapor product to be in view of the public, except during actual sales transactions of such items.”

The acceptable ingredients in vape cartridges is also being regulated under the new law. The ordinance prohibits the sale of any “harmful additive other than pharmaceutical grade vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, nicotine, food-grade flavoring, and water.”

The ordinance also restricts “any mixing or preparing vape juice” at a vape shop “be done strictly in compliance with FDA regulations and applicable permits.”

Despite the multitude of new restrictions and regulations, vape shop owners across the county are calling this ordinance a win.

“It was, I think, a perfect decision,” said Bobby Lewis, owner of My Vape Shack in Dawsonville.

Back in September, the Board of Commissioners heard the first draft of the proposed ordinance. It would have followed Smyrna in raising the legal age to 21, prohibited the sale of any flavored cartridges, and restricted any new business licenses for vape shops.

During the public hearing of the original draft of the ordinance, more than 60 citizens, business owners, and lobbyists showed up to argue against the law and share their stories of using vape products to quit smoking.

“My intention with this (ordinance) was never to put anybody out of business,” said Dawson County District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett at the Oct. 17 meeting. “I don’t know anything about vaping, and I’ll tell you one thing — I’m not going to find out myself. … But I’m glad everybody showed up (to the first public hearing) because I really got an education.”

“Somebody commented that they could tell we were really listening — boy, I was zoomed in,” Fausett added.

After that public hearing, Dawson County District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield held a round table with Dawson County Planning and Development Director Jameson Kinley and several vape shop owners to determine how the county could craft an ordinance that would combat underage vaping and the additives that are causing serious health problems without targeting the legitimate business interests of the vaping industry.

“The commissioners were very, very willing to sit down and talk with us, and willing to be educated,” said Jamie Wheatley, owner of Vaperz Den in Dawsonville. “We all sat down with them in round table meetings, and I think it turned out great.”

“We were on their side all the way,” added James Hyman, owner of Peachtree Vapor in Dawsonville. “We want the stuff off the street just as bad as they do. We don’t want the kids a part of it.”

According to the shop owners, the new ordinance will help keep vape products out of the hands of school kids and will target places where more underage purchasing of these products takes place.

“There’s a reason that 92% of the underage sales in this country for vaping come from convenience stores and gas stations — because it’s not a screened environment. It’s not professionals.”

“We help as a police force for them,” said Wheatley. “We tag everybody who comes through that door, so we know for a fact who’s buying it, unlike the convenience stores, where they just walk in and whoever wants to sell it to them sells it to them.”

“We were trying to take care of the kids,” said Commissioner Satterfield. “We were seeing a lot of this stuff in middle schools, and just talking with the superintendent and teachers — I even talked to doctors and pediatricians — and I think by meeting with some of these (vape shop) owners, they volunteered to step up and help us try to stop this crisis right now. They educated us on what was legal and what’s not, and guaranteed us that they would have the stuff that was legal and tested.”