October 7, 2017 9:45:55 PM
Alex Holloway - [email protected]
Starkville's ban on using e-cigarettes in public places is now official, but the matter might not be over for stores that say the ban could hurt their business.
Aldermen unanimously approved an amendment at Tuesday's meeting that added electronic cigarettes and similar products to the city's longstanding ban on smoking in public areas.
However, ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said he plans to bring forward an additional amendment which would allow an exemption for businesses, in standalone buildings, that only sale tobacco or vaping products.
The initial amendment, which ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins introduced in early September, prohibits "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.
The Perkins' amendment was met with concerned opposition from the staff of 1810 Vapors, a vape shop on Stark Road, who contended that the ban, which prohibits smoking in most indoor public areas except for designated smoking bed and breakfast, hotel or motel rooms and private clubs, would seriously hamper the way they could do business. Josef Enfinger, the business' owner, said that prohibiting smoking in his business would prevent customers from testing out their personal vaporizers before purchasing them and his staff from helping customers with troubleshooting issues with their equipment.
Carver said his amendment will likely be on the agenda for the board's Oct. 17 meeting. It will require at least one public hearing. City attorney Chris Latimer said aldermen could choose rather to move forward with a vote after one public hearing or two, as is custom for ordinance amendments.
For Carver, the exemption is a compromise between protecting public health in public areas and not harming local businesses.
"I don't want to see vaping or cigarettes anywhere that might be an eating establishment or anything like that," Carver said. "But I think it's anti-business to tell them they can't do that in their facility."
The exemption would only apply to standalone buildings because smoke, or chemicals from it, from businesses in multi-tenant storefronts might filter to neighboring business spaces through the air conditioning system.
Carver attempted to introduce the motion Tuesday, but it failed when Mayor Lynn Spruill broke a 3-3 tie against it. Carver gained support from Ward 3 Alderman David Little and Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller. Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Perkins voted against Carver's amendment.
Sistrunk said the change went too far to be added at the table Tuesday night. In an interview The Dispatch, she said she's not opposed to the amendment coming forward but would like to see it done in the proper way.
"What was proposed at the table wasn't something I think anyone would have anticipated based on what we said we'd have that night," she said. "That's why I thought it deserved its own public hearing. It was a matter of scope. This was important, and I think people would have had the opportunity to weigh in."
Sistrunk also said she felt aldermen hadn't had enough time to consider Carver's proposal.
Carver disagreed, saying aldermen had gotten "close to" emails ahead of Tuesday's meeting.
Still, he said he hoped the board would move forward with the amendment. Should it pass, he said he thinks it will allow business like 1810 Vapors to continue coming to Starkville.
"From now on," he said, "I guess those gentlemen and ladies would know they need to seek out standalone locales."