The city council followed up to discuss the impact of the vaping ordinance at its May 20 meeting where concerns from homeowners and businesses were addressed.
The ordinance, which went into effect May 7, limits vaping usage within 200 feet of schools and 100 feet of churches within city limits as well as on city property such as the parks and city hall. Homeowners living adjacent to city, church or school property addressed concerns that the ordinance prohibits them from using e-cigarettes in their homes. Mayor Mike Eason said at the meeting that is not the case, and that homeowners may still use vape products on their property.
“We’re trying to let people know that we’re not trying to restrict it from the standpoint you can’t smoke in your house if you live next to a school or a church,” Eason said. “We’re trying to protect people that are at our churches, our schools and our kids and our public property.”
Eason said that letters were sent out to the churches within city limits stating that the churches have the ability to establish designated smoking areas on their property, should they so desire.
The other notable concern came from local businesses currently selling vaping products and paraphernalia that were concerned about the $2,000 fee set to be paid by June 1.
Under the ordinance, convenient stores and service stations currently selling vape products must treat the sale of vape products as they would tobacco or alcohol such as keeping products behind the counter, in order to check identification so that minors are not able to buy the products.
City attorney Dana Miles said that based on concerns from local business owners, the ordinance may need some adjusting.
“I do think this is an ordinance that we may need to, as we work through it, we may need to make some small adjustments over time, but I think it served a good purpose,” Miles said.
To help local businesses currently selling vape products, council member Caleb Phillips made a motion to waive the fees for businesses currently selling vape products for the fiscal year.
“I think there is going to be some things to work through and until we work through some of them for our local businesses that have been here, the ones that are already in use selling the stuff now, I’d like to waive the fee for this year until we can figure out if the fee needs to change,” Phillips said.
The motion was approved unanimously.
“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to protect the kids, trying to protect the health of our citizens and we’re trying to protect that on our schools, on our school properties, on our church properties and on our city properties in public events that we have here,” Eason said.
Dawson County is also looking to craft its own ordinance that is expected to mirror the city’s ordinance so that both ordinances can be enforced by the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office.
Currently, the sheriff’s office cannot enforce the city ordinance due to the lack of an intergovernmental agreement, an issue that would be mitigated with the implementation of the county’s ordinance.
A vaping usage ordinance is not currently on an upcoming agenda for the Board of Commissioners, but District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said that the county attorneys are looking at options and crafting a proposed ordinance.
“We’ve been looking at many different options and many different other communities around us that have already introduced ordinances and trying to make sure we have our ducks in a row in order to implement something that can help our community but not be an overbearing government ordinance,” Gaines said. “We definitely want to look at the city’s and try to match up as much as we can.”
Though e-cigarettes and vaping have been on the market for about 12 years, the sheriff’s office has reported seeing increases in vape products being confiscated during seizures of illegal substances, which is a concern for Sheriff Jeff Johnson. The trend is especially worrying as vaping has become increasingly popular among middle and high school students.
“This is concerning considering that so many other substances, including illegal (substances), may be smoked and ingested,” Johnson said.
For Johnson, he hopes the ordinances will serve as a safeguard for citizens, especially the youth of the community.
Hopefully accountability and intervention at an earlier age will result in less dependency and substance abuse issues later on in life,” Johnson said.
Plans for enforcement, when or if, the county passes its ordinance remains to be seen.
“We strive to enforce our laws in a consistent and impartial manner, however we firmly believe in officer discretion. We want to take the opportunity to educate first in hopes of gaining compliance,” Johnson said. “Any continued violations would dealt with in a more progressive manner. Naturally, illegal substances would constitute a different response.”
**Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a four part series discussing vaping.