Hermantown temporarily bans sale and use of e-cigarettesHermantown has temporarily snuffed out the sale and use of electronic cigarettes inside public spaces while it considers a more permanent solution.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Hermantown has temporarily snuffed out the sale and use of electronic cigarettes inside public spaces while it considers a more permanent solution.
The impetus for a six-month moratorium on the vapor-producing devices came from Duluth, according to Hermantown City Administrator John Mulder.
Earlier this month, Duluth passed a resolution subjecting the sale and use of e-cigarettes to the same regulations as the combustible tobacco products they are designed to mimic.
“Like Duluth, we had some questions about these products. Not to criticize Duluth, but instead of taking immediate action the way they did, we decided to put a six-month moratorium in place to give us time to study what we ought to do,” said Hermantown Mayor Wayne Boucher.
“We want to take the emotion out of this issue and simply weigh the facts,” he said.
The idea of a moratorium also appealed to Mulder, who said: “Instead of just reacting, we wanted to take a more thoughtful approach.”
“We’re trying to get ahead of any problems and protect people, but the question is: How do we do that without unnecessarily hurting commerce?” Boucher said.
Although of a limited duration, Hermantown’s temporary moratorium is more restrictive than Duluth’s recently adopted ordinance, which still allows shops to sell e-cigarettes but regulates where they may be used.
No public opposition has yet surfaced to the moratorium in Hermantown, according to Mulder and Boucher, who both say they are aware of no business that had been selling e-cigarettes in the city.
Brian Annis publicly suggested he might open a business specializing in e-cigarettes and other vapor-producing devices in Hermantown instead of Duluth, as he had originally planned, due to the ordinance passed by the Duluth City Council on Sept. 9.
Annis declined to return calls or to respond to e-mails from the Duluth News Tribune Wednesday, but a Facebook page for his venture, called Lake Effect Vapor E-Cigarettes & Vapor Lounge, indicates he is proceeding with the build-out of a shop in Duluth.
Annis’ business model originally called for an area in the store where customers could test out e-cigarettes and sample different flavors of vapor solutions. That would not be allowed indoors under Duluth’s new ordinance.
A shop called E-Cig Empire opened in the mall area before the Duluth ordinance was passed.
Without any regulations of its own, Hermantown could have become an attractive refuge for other retailers selling e-cigarettes in the Duluth market, as well, according to Mulder.
“We didn’t want a situation where people thought: If we can’t do business in Duluth, we can go to Hermantown,” he said.
Duluth City Councilor Jennifer Julsrud was one of the authors of Duluth’s new e-cigarette ordinance and said she is pleased to see other cities, such as Hermantown, looking to regulate the cigarette-simulating devices.
“I think what Hermantown is doing now validates what we did here in Duluth,” she said.
Proponents of e-cigarettes have argued that they are a safe and effective tool to wean people off tobacco, which poses a greater danger to people’s health.
Gregory Conley, legislative director for Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, testified before the Duluth City Council that e-cigarette users are exposed to only 1 percent of the risk conventional smokers are.
He told councilors: “If enacted, these ordinances, as written, would not only not benefit public health but would have the perverse consequence of actually protecting cigarette markets,” he warned.
Julsrud places little stock in the claims of e-cigarette benefits and referred to the devices as “a clever way to get around the law.” She warned that left unchecked, the industry would come to addict a new generation of users, just as tobacco companies did with conventional cigarettes.
Boucher said Hermantown has successfully used moratoriums in the past as an opportunity to develop city policy. He pointed to regulations of adult-oriented businesses in the community as a prior example.
Mulder expects debate over the merits and risks of e-cigarettes will continue for some time to come.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to reach a definitive medical conclusion in six months, but I think we can come up with some sort of rules that people will feel comfortable with going forward,” he said.
Hermantown’s moratorium will remain in effect until March 31, 2014, or until the Hermantown City Council adopts a more permanent regulatory stance, whichever comes first.