The city of Dawsonville adopted a new ordinance Monday night aimed at reducing the usage of electronic cigarettes and tobacco products inside city limits. It went into effect immediately Tuesday morning after a unanimous May 6 vote from the city council.
The ordinance was introduced at the April 8 city council meeting per a request from Dawson County Schools Superintendent Damon Gibbs.
“The city, in response to the letter that I sent to our community, wanted to partner with us to make a difference in the lives of our students,” Gibbs said. “I appreciate the city wanting to keep the children of Dawson County away from potentially dangerous items.”
On March 20 Gibbs published a letter urging the community to be aware of the dangers of electronic cigarette usage among students in response to a March 13 incident in which a 13-year-old was found semi-conscious on the side of Hwy. 53 near Dairy Queen after vaping an unknown substance.
“We want to try to do something to help control the problem before it gets totally out of hand,” Eason said. “The purpose of this was to protect the kids.”
The two-pronged ordinance restricts usage of both tobacco products and alternative smoking and vaping products within the city, and places regulations and requirements on businesses selling tobacco and vapor products. It was read at the April 22 and May 6 city council meetings before it passed unanimously May 6.
According to the ordinance, smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, vape juice, vapor products and using non-traditional tobacco paraphernalia is prohibited in all city government buildings and on all city government properties.
It is also prohibited in or within 100 yards of any church building or property owned by a church, as well as in or within 200 yards of any school building, school grounds, college campus or property owned or leased to a public or private school.
Minors under the age of 18 are prohibited from purchasing, attempting to purchase and possessing non-traditional tobacco paraphernalia for personal use.
Non-traditional tobacco paraphernalia is defined in the ordinance as non-traditional instruments designed to “facilitate the smoking, consumption or ingestion of tobacco, nicotine, chemicals, substances, drugs, or other harmful additives in any form.” It includes bongs, hookah pipes and faux jewelry, bracelets and necklaces associated with tobacco, vaping or drug use.
Regulations were set for businesses within city limits that sell tobacco and vaping products, with the ordinance specifying a 25 percent cap on merchandise sold. For instance, service stations and liquor stores whose tobacco and vaping product sales amount to more than 25 percent of their sales would not be in compliance with the ordinance.
Businesses currently selling tobacco and nontraditional tobacco products within Dawsonville city limits prior to the ordinance taking effect, however, are grandfathered in, according to Eason.
New businesses are required to apply to the city of Dawsonville Planning and Zoning Department for a license by June 1 of each year. They are not permitted to sell any item of non-traditional tobacco paraphernalia to anyone under the age of 18 either directly or indirectly. Products also cannot be sold in premises that are in or within 100 yards of church-owned properties, as well as in or within 200 yards of any school building or school-owned properties.
Eason said that the city, churches and schools are able to create designated smoking areas if they so desire.
“We’re not restricting it but we don’t want it so it’s everywhere around it,” Eason said.
The city took quick action on passing the ordinance so that it would be in place to address the issue of vaping at the junior high and high school where Eason said students often start vaping on city and school property in the afternoons.
“It’s right at the end of the school year and we want to try to extend the word out now because the kids are going to go home for the summer and maybe they’ll remember that there’s a restriction and ban on smoking around the school and as the park approaches… it will be a whole lot better to have that under control,” Eason said.
According to Eason, the city has sent copies of the newly minted ordinance to the Board of Education, the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and the Board of Commissioners and hopes that the county will be working to pass its own ordinance with the same usage restrictions as the city.
Dawson County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond said Tuesday morning that he and District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield met with Eason and city officials in late March to begin working on the ordinances and looked at similar ordinances in the city of Cumming and Forsyth County.
“It’s all about safety to me,” Thurmond said. “Any government’s number one responsibility is the safety of its citizens and so that’s obviously what we’re trying to do with this ordinance.”
The county will present its vaping ordinance at a future commission meeting. It is not currently on an upcoming agenda.
The city ordinance can be viewed in its entirety at www.dawsonville-ga.gov.
**Editor’s note: This is the first article in a four part series about vaping.