1810 Vapors owner Josef Enfinger looks through liquid for vaping in Starkville on Friday. Starkville aldermen are considering an amendment to the city's non-smoking ordinance to include electronic cigarettes and similar products. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
September 23, 2017 10:03:08 PM
As Starkville aldermen consider an amendment to the city's non-smoking ordinance to include electronic cigarettes and similar products, at least one business owner is worried the change might force him to shut his doors.
If approved, the amendment would prohibit "vaping" in the same areas where smoking is banned -- including at most restaurants and businesses. Vaping is inhaling vapor produced by heating a liquid "juice," in e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers. The juices can contain nicotine in varying amounts.
Aldermen will vote on the amended ordinance after a public hearing at the board's Oct. 3 meeting.
Josef Enfinger, owner of 1810 Vapors on Stark Road, told the board on Tuesday, during the first public hearing on the proposed amendment, the change could prevent customers from using personal vaporizers in his store and hamper his business. 1810 Vapors has been open for about a year in Starkville and has another location on Highway 45 in Columbus.
While some tobacco stores in the area also carry vaping products, 1810 is the only vaping-focused store in Starkville.
Enfinger said many of his customers come in to troubleshoot their devices or try flavored liquids to use in them before making a purchase. If the amendment passes, he said that could prevent customers from doing that, which would have a "huge" impact on his business.
"The majority of our customers, when they're shopping for a new flavor, they're going to come in and try it," he said. "If they can't come in and try, they're not going to buy -- they're going to go to another city where they can. Or they're going to start ordering online and save that money anyway."
Starkville passed the state's first smoking ban in 2008. The ban prohibits smoking in most indoor public areas except for designated smoking bed and breakfast, hotel or motel rooms and private clubs.
It also prohibits smoking in certain outdoor areas, such as immediately near the entrance or exit of an area where smoking is prohibited, seating areas of outdoor sports arenas and venues, outside portions of restaurants where more than 50 percent of the outside area is walled in or otherwise covered, and any area within the security fencing at the airport.
At the time, electronic cigarettes had yet to reach the popularity they enjoy today, and the amendment, introduced in early September by Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins, aims to adjust the smoking ban to include them.
The original ordinance defines smoking as carrying "a lighted pipe, cigar, cigarette or tobacco-related product in any form."
The amended version adds a definition for electronic cigarette: "an electronic product or device that produces a vapor that delivers nicotine or other substances to the person inhaling from the device to simulate smoking, and is likely to be offered to, purchased by, consumers as an electronic cigarette, electronic cigar, electronic cigarillo or electronic pipe."
Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill said a point that arose during Tuesday's public hearing, about a former cigar store in the Cotton District that used a private side area to allow customers to smoke, may serve as a solution to 1810 Vapor's concerns.
"If they want to tell people to test it, all they have to do is set up a side area that's not a public area," Spruill said. "Alternatively, they could have people step outside. I don't think it shuts them down. It's not the simplest solution, but they can do it."
1810 Vapors is a small location, with a storage room in the back, an office/purchasing area in the front, and a small side room. Enfinger said the location makes it difficult to modify the side room to be a designated private area for smoking without it being a "cloud of vape all day."
"It's going to get crowded, it's going to get hot in there," he said. "It would be hard for someone to get comfortable in there."
Enfinger also expressed concern about asking people to go outside to try products, due to weather conditions such as rain, heat or cold.
Instead, he said he'd like to see aldermen consider allowing an exception for business, which carry 80 percent or more of their product as vaping-related.
"If you're coming into a shop like this, you know what you're walking into," he said. "You know there's going to be vapor in the air."
Business friendly vs. public health
Perkins said he understands 1810 Vapor's concerns about the amendment. However, he said the city had to continue to work to protect the health and safety of its citizens.
"At the end of the day, we are just trying to make it clear that we do not, and will not allow smoking in places of employment," he said. "We all have rules to live by. We're not trying to do anything to discourage business, yet we have to apply a balancing test and do things to support businesses and our citizens' safety. They will have to see how they can operate within our parameters."
Spruill said the ordinance isn't meant to target business but to protect public health.
"This is designed for those who might be having dinner somewhere and have someone next to them who's wanting to vape," Spruill said. "We never intended to put people out of business or make it hard to do something."
Enfinger said he's not opposed to the smoking ban to prevent smoking or vaping in other places beyond the store. He said he talks to his customers daily and advises them not to vape in areas where smoking is prohibited.
"If I was to go to a restaurant that doesn't allow smoking, I'm not going to pull my vaporizer out," he said. "That's just a responsible user's perspective on that. We advocate that to all of our users ... because we don't want anybody to shed us in a bad light in that aspect."
Vaping's health impacts are still not fully known. Vaping advocates argue it can be used to wean people from smoking tobacco. During Tuesday's public hearing, Mike Jeffcoat, vice president of the Mississippi Vaping Advocacy Association, referenced a report the United Kingdom's Royal College of Physicians issued in April 2016 that found health hazards from long-term vaping are "unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco," and recommends the practice, along with the use of other non-tobacco nicotine products as an alternative to smoking tobacco.
Still other groups, like the American Heart Association, remain skeptical of vaping as a method to reduce smoking and are pushing for stronger regulation of e-cigarettes.
Concerns of spreading
With 1810 operating in both Starkville and Columbus, Enfinger is concerned an amended Starkville ordinance could mean other area communities may follow suit.
Tupelo approved an e-cigarette ban in 2014, and Enfinger said the idea has "trickled out" from there.
Columbus passed a non-smoking ordinance in 2009, a definition of smoking that, like Starkville's, focuses on tobacco products.
City Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong said he isn't aware of any complaints Columbus has received about vaping.
Lisa James, director of the Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce, said vaping concerns haven't been raised with the chamber, either.
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