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Sunday October 20th, 2019 12:47PM

Gainesville City Council split but approves vape shop moratorium

By Marc Eggers Anchor / Reporter

GAINESVILLE – It wasn’t smoke, it wasn’t vapor, but Tuesday evening’s decision by the Gainesville City Council establishing an immediate 120-day moratorium on vape shops did create a somewhat hazy environment with numerous unanswered questions.

The final vote tally was 4-2 in favor of the moratorium.

Despite the split vote the intent of the resolution was clearly unanimous, but questions about what would (or could) happen next led Gainesville City Councilwomen Ruth Bruner and Barbara Brooks to vote “no” on the measure.

City Attorney Abb Hayes said a lot of detail still needed to be worked out in the resolution he presented at the end of the voting meeting. 

As an example, Hayes said whether or not vaping inside vape shops would be permitted is one such issue the city will address.  “…which could perhaps be a gap in our code…we address smoking indoors but perhaps not vaping indoors…it states in the moratorium that we’ll determine any vested rights on a case-by-case basis.

Bruner asked Hayes if the moratorium affected licensed vape shops currently in operation. 

He replied, “I hesitate to just give you a blanket answer because I think it would get into the specifics as to how a business operates presently.  We just have to address that on a case-by-case basis…a vape shop currently has some vested rights.  We can’t retroactively jump on them.”

Bruner said she still wasn’t clear if a current vaping business could or couldn’t operate.  Hayes answered, “They will have to consult with their own lawyer; come in and talk to us and we’d be happy to work with them…but I just can’t address a specific concern that an existing vape shop might have without seeing what that issue is.”

“I’m not in favor of vape shops,” Bruner said, “but I’m still confused about what we’re voting on.”

Hayes said, “What we’re trying to accomplish here is maintain the status quo until we can regulate this further.”

Brooks, who also opposes vaping shops, agreed and voted against the measure with Bruner, saying the resolution created too many questions.  “I needed for the wording of the document to be a little more precise…so existing businesses wouldn’t have any doubt about whether they would be affected or not.”

City Manager Bryan Lackey explained after the meeting adjourned that enforcement of the moratorium on existing vape shops would not begin immediately, but encouraged vape shop owners to contact the city if they have questions.

Councilman George Wangemann said he would support the resolution, calling it “…a pro-health ordinance.  We have the right to regulate health; that’s what I think we’re doing here.”

Steven Kennedy owns and operates Cloud 53 Smoke & Vape Shop at the intersection of Thompson Bridge and Nancy Creek Roads, just inside Gainesville city limits.  He said he isn’t surprised at the move by city leaders.

Kennedy said, “They (city council) don’t know what they’re talking about, that’s the problem.”

He went on to say he felt the news stories and test results regarding the dangers of vaping were skewed, based on inaccurate findings.    

“This has been going on for a long time…this is nothing new,” Kennedy said.  “They are trying to blame it on the vaping industry and to be honest with you, I really believe big-tobacco is behind it all.  I really do.”

Kennedy said he would contact the city before opening on Wednesday to make sure he was complying with the new regulations.  He did pause to say he felt it unfair that only vape shops in the city were under the ban, and that would make competing with shops in the county difficult.

“But,” he said with a smile, “it wouldn’t surprise me if the county does the same thing.”

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