Hastening to beat an expiring moratorium, the City Council on Monday night moved to limit where stores that sell electronic cigarettes and other “non-traditional” smoking devices and supplies can do business in Mansfield.
Council members also have called special meetings for Tuesday and Wednesday mornings to cast the second and final votes on the ordinance amendment before the council’s six-month ban on such stores runs out this weekend.
The council voted 6-0 for the amendment Monday, with no discussion.
The proposal would allow the establishments to operate only in heavy commercial or industrial zoning districts and the owners must obtain specific-use permits that require council approval.
City officials are reacting to concerns by health professionals that e-cigarettes — which use flavored nicotine and are marketed as a tool to help people stop smoking — need more study before the chemicals and vapor can be declared harmless. Also, studies show that teen-agers increasingly are using the products and could become addicted to the nicotine and switch to tobacco products.
Councilman Larry Broseh said e-cigarette shops and hookah lounges shouldn’t be allowed in common retail areas. He said that while businesses should be able to locate where they can be successful, “We want to make sure it’s aesthetically pleasing to the majority of our citizens.”
City officials said two shops currently sell e-cigarettes and supplies in Mansfield — Vicious Vapors at 801 N. Main St. and Friendly Vaping at 1701 Country Club Drive.
James Slater, who said he opened Vicious Vapors in 2012 after e-cigarettes helped him stop smoking, said city officials are overreacting. He believes most owners of such stores work hard to keep minors from buying their products, and he believes the chemicals are safe.
“Everything we use to make our liquid is individually approved by the FDA,” Slater said earlier Monday. “And we’ve been proactive in keeping our clientele at age 18 and up.”
The amendment refers to selling, renting or exhibiting products “known as water pipes, hookahs, electronic cigarettes or electronic vaping devices, steam stones, hookah pens or any comparable devices.”
Existing stores would be grandfathered as non-conforming uses but also would have restrictions. For example, if the store becomes a different business or closes for more than six months, it loses its grandfathered status, said Planning Director Felix Wong. That also could happen if the store is damaged, such as by fire, and the cost to repair it exceeds 50 percent of the store’s value, Wong said.
The provision defines a “non-traditional smoking-related business” as one for which sales of the targeted products make up at least 25 percent of its sales. The council did not opt for the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation of a 10 percent threshold.
The ordinance would not affect, for example, a Lebanese restaurant that offers a hookah pipe to its customers because the vast majority of its business would be food and alcohol sales.
Slater said the city’s sharp focus on his livelihood has made for a frustrating tenure as a Mansfield merchant.
“I feel we’ve been a model business here,” he said. “But regardless of that, people feel how people feel.”