Oct. 30: Hopkins passes moratorium on e-cigarette sample rooms

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 9, 2013 - 9:35 PM

Unregulated and increasingly popular, vaping has many city leaders concerned. Hopkins has decided a moratorium on new retailers is in order.

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Molly McIntosh, who works at the Vaping Studio in Hopkins, let Haley Cybyske try out some flavors during a job interview. The business opened a few weeks ago, and will be the only one as long as Hopkins’ moratorium stays in place.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii , Star Tribune

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It’s a smoldering issue for many cities — how to handle electronic cigarettes, the increasingly popular new alternative to conventional smokes.

Specialty shops that sell e-cigarette products and lounges where customers can sample products are popping up in Twin Cities suburbs. But one western suburban city council, fearing a stampede of e-cig retailers, has pulled back the reins.

This fall, Hopkins approved a tobacco license for one electronic cigarette retailer on its Mainstreet, then promptly passed a yearlong moratorium banning any more until it can better study the issue.

City retailers with tobacco licenses can continue to sell electronic cigarettes, but are prohibited from on-site sampling. Hopkins’ one electronic cigarette lounge, the Vaping Studio, is allowed to stay open and have on-site sampling during the moratorium.

The popularity of electronic cigarettes is growing across the country and in Minnesota. In the past six months alone, five vaping retailers, including a kiosk at the Northtown Mall, have opened in the north metro city of Blaine.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale. Users absorb nicotine without the thousands of chemicals, tar or odor of conventional cigarettes.

E-cigs and the chemical mixtures used in them are largely unregulated by federal and state law, so cities have little guidance on how to manage these new businesses.

That’s why Hopkins city leaders decided to put the brakes on more vaping rooms. City leaders, who banned hookah lounges just a year ago, want to learn more about vaping and the products used in the process. Hopkins City Manager Mike Mornson said the council hopes state and federal authorities will step in soon and set some regulations on vaping.

“What is in these e-cigarettes?” he asked. “There’s just some education that needs to be done. We don’t want to have a run on tobacco licenses. There were also some concerns [that] youth are getting into vaping.”

Mornson said city leaders are wondering about the best locations for these types of businesses. The one vaping room in town is in a basement space on Hopkins’ historic Mainstreet.

“If these are going to be allowed, where is the best place for them to be allowed? It created a little bit of concern if these should be situated throughout our Mainstreet area,” Mornson said. “I think you are going to see a lot of these issues front and center in a lot of communities. They are exploding as far as sales.”

Hopkins Council Member Jason Gadd said the moratorium is not a judgment on vaping, but purely about safety.

“It is a new area,” he said. “There is no regulation on it. We want to make sure our residents are protected. That’s why we are giving the staff some time to take a look at it. I am sure there will be state and federal regulations coming out.”

Bars, theaters see more use

E-cigs don’t smell or create smoke like conventional cigarettes, and users can control the amount of nicotine involved. Proponents of vaping say it’s cleaner, safer and less intrusive than conventional smoking.

Still, some are questioning their use in public. Local bars and restaurants are starting to see more use. Gadd, a nonsmoker, said he’s seen someone vaping in a local movie theater, says he’s not sure yet how he feels about that.

Electronic cigarettes are not restricted under the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, so businesses and some cities, including Duluth, are adopting their own rules.

In Anoka County, the Blaine City Council has approved five tobacco licenses for e-cigarette rooms. But during recent tobacco compliance checks involving a minor who was working with police, 13 of the city’s 54 licensed tobacco retailers, including two electronic cigarette retailers, failed.

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