Under new laws in Montgomery County, shops can’t sell vapes and electronic cigarettes within half a mile of public and private middle and high schools.
The three new laws include a ban on manufacturers of electronic smoking devices from distributing the products to retail stores within the same half-mile boundary.
Following state law, the County Council also approved legislation on Tuesday prohibiting sales of tobacco products or electronic cigarettes to anyone under 21.
County Council Member Gabe Albornoz, a lead sponsor of the bills, said that in November, the county found that one in four high school students had tried a vape product or e-cigarette. Out of the county’s middle school students, one in seven had tried the products, he said.
“We now know the incredibly dangerous effects of vaping,” he said. “It impacts the respiratory system and does contain levels of nicotine that are a significant concern.”
One bill specifically addresses the prohibition of selling flavored e-cigarettes near the schools.
Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, put the issue on the county’s radar much earlier than other jurisdictions, Albornoz said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nicotine in e-cigarettes can harm brain development. Other chemicals in the products affect lung function.
The feedback on the bills has been overwhelming in support, Albornoz said, but some vape shops owners have expressed concern about the limitations.
“We tried to draw distinction and acknowledge that this is a forceful effort to deal with a very serious issue, but this does not prevent vape shops from operating,” he said. “It simply prevents them from operating within a half mile of a high school or middle school.”
At a Nov. 5 public hearing of legislation that would ban the businesses from being near schools, county vape shop owners said the laws would “demonize” them.
The shop owners said the larger retailers, such as gas stations, were the problem and the distance from schools and selling flavored products wasn’t relevant. Using vapes can help people break away from using cigarettes, they said.
Council Member Hans Riemer, a lead sponsor of the bill concerning flavored e-cigarettes, said some business owners might need to move their vape shops away from the schools to follow the laws.
“We might be able to, once again, turn the tide on this epidemic. There has been, for the first time in a very long time, an increase in nicotine usage,” he said. “That is something we have to put above all other measures in terms of our response of this issue. We’ve got to stop kids from starting to use these products. It requires bold action.”
Council Member Craig Rice, a lead sponsor of the ban on manufacturer distribution, said children are vulnerable and often don’t make the best decisions for their health and well-being.
“The reality is that this has been dangerous before and will continue to be dangerous afterwards,” he said.
Adam Zimmerman of Rockville told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday morning that about 600 retailers in the county currently sell e-cigarettes.
Zimmerman, who has been advocating for various smoke-free initiatives for about eight years, provided background information and relevant research to Albornoz and the council during the formation of the bills.
“The measures that the county [have] put in place go a long way to ensure we protect kids from the dangers that these [products] pose,” he said. “It’s even more important that these measures are being passed during this coronavirus outbreak.”
Zimmerman said the new laws are the “next best thing” beyond a total ban of e-cigarettes and vapes.
“There are a lot of hard decisions that policymakers will have to make in this current climate due to funding and all of the issues associated with an economic downturn,” he said. “It’s measures like this that can greatly go a long way both in the short term and the long term in protecting people’s health.”
Bethesda Beat reported in November that five Montgomery County students required a drug antidote after vaping during school and losing consciousness.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.