North Richland Hills bans sale of e-cigarettes to minors

07/19/2014 2:58 PM

07/19/2014 2:59 PM

Add North Richland Hills to the growing list of cities that have banned some electronic cigarette sales.

The City Council recently voted to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to people under age 18 and to restrict where the devices can be used. Violators can be fined up to $500.

Electronic cigarettes, battery-powered devices that heat a nicotine or other solution into a vapor that the user inhales and exhales like smoke, face the same restrictions as tobacco products.

The council also voted to control new tobacco and nontraditional tobacco shops, such as those that sell hookahs and electronic cigarettes, by requiring them to get a special-use permit before they can open. Existing shops will not be affected by the new ordinance. Violators can be fined up to $2,000.

At a council workshop in April, Police Chief Jimmy Perdue proposed banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors because of the health risks. He said that electronic cigarettes are widely available in North Richland Hills.

Other cities that have regulations for e-cigarettes include Bedford, Flower Mound, Mansfield, Watauga and Weatherford. This year, the Fort Worth school district banned the use of e-cigarettes by adults and children at district facilities.

In Burleson, the council will likely adopt an ordinance at Monday’s meeting that will ban e-cigarette sales to minors. The council voted 6-0 this month to prohibit sales after an initial reading of the proposed ordinance, spokeswoman Sally Ellertson said.

At last week’s council meeting in North Richland Hills, Steve Belcher, who co-owns Mid-Cities Vapor on Davis Boulevard in the city, said his store already prohibits sales to minors. He opposed other restrictions, saying they show a lack of education. His 2-year-old business has grown from 800 square feet to 2,700 square feet, and he has opened a shop in Fort Worth, he said.

Belcher said he uses nontoxic ingredients, such as propylene glycol, and adds nicotine to his electronic cigarettes only on request. The federal Food and Drug Administration calls propylene glycol safe unless consumed excessively.

“We do not classify what we do as smoking,” Belcher told the council. “It is a smoking alternative. … We are not a nontraditional smoking business. That would be [like] saying that an ice cream shop is a nontraditional steakhouse because they both come from cows.”

The federal Food and Drug Administration is seeking to extend its authority to regulate e-cigarettes. It reports that e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, so consumers don’t know the risks of the devices or how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use.

North Richland Hills expanded its smoking ordinance Jan. 1 to ban smoking in most public buildings, including restaurants, stores, offices and healthcare centers. Violators can be fined up to $2,000 per offense.

Mayor Oscar Trevino said that Belcher does a good job and that his shop is clean. But he defended the council’s actions, saying that some residents have objected to the location of some shops. He also talked about banning sales to minors.

“It’s something we should have addressed when we came up with the smoking ordinance,” Trevino said.

Staff writer Elizabeth Campbell contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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