The Montgomery County Council hopes to ban the sale of e-cigarettes within a half-mile of middle and high schools, even if it forces some shops to close.
The legislation was explained during a press conference Monday afternoon, during which all nine council members and County Executive Marc Elrich pledged their support in an effort to fight the “growing epidemic” of vaping. The bill is expected to be formally introduced on Tuesday.
“If we think about what we would have done generations ago had we known then about the terrible ramifications of nicotine use … what would we have done differently,” said Council member Gabe Albornoz, the lead sponsor of the legislation. “We would have taken steps proactively to prevent youth and children from accessing these products in the first place and that’s what the bills we are about to introduce are all about.”
In recent weeks, e-cigarette use and vaping have gotten national attention as dozens of people nationally have fallen ill with lung conditions health officials believe are linked to vaping.
One person in Montgomery County has recently been hospitalized with a vaping-related lung illness, according to county Health Officer Travis Gayles. The person, who is between 18 and 21 years old, was hospitalized for a week but is now in “good condition,” Gayles said.
Last school year, five Montgomery County students lost consciousness and required a drug antidote after vaping during school.
There is a federal movement to place a new limit on vaping, as well. The Trump administration is working a ban on all e-cigarettes with a flavor other than tobacco.
Vaping, the act of inhaling a vapor usually containing nicotine, can impede the development of students’ brains, which are still developing until age 25, Gayles said.
Some devices can be used to vape THC oil, which can cause a high similar to that experienced by smoking marijuana, Gayles said, and those substances can be laced with other chemicals that can cause more severe side effects.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports an “alarming increase” in vaping among high school students from 2017 to 2018, with more than 3 million youth using e-cigarettes in 2018 – a 78 percent increase from the prior year.
There are 22 vape shops in Montgomery County, Albornoz said, and 19 fall within the boundary that would restrict the sale of their products.
While council members said they take the impact of the legislation seriously, they feel protecting children’s safety is more important.
“If we’re going to do something this serious — because we are going to put people out of business — we need to make certain what we’re doing is the right thing to do,” Council Vice President Sydney Katz said. “I can tell you … this is the right thing to do.”
Elrich said he is “fully supportive” of the bill and will “sign whatever comes over to me.” He said he would support the legislation if it was expanded to restrict e-cigarette sales within 1 mile of schools.
“If this proves to be a business problem for some people, we have a responsibility of weighing public health first,” Elrich said. “If it’s something that only makes a business successful at the cost of public health, is not the kind of thing people should be in business doing.”
Along with the ban of “vape shops” near schools, the County Council also intends to introduce legislation that would ban e-cigarette manufacturers from selling their products to any retailer within a half-mile of middle or high schools. There are approximately 600 retailers in Montgomery County that sell vape products, according to council members.
The council, acting as the county’s Board of Health Regulation, will force the municipalities to abide by the legislation, as well, Albornoz said.
Council member Craig Rice said he believes manufacturers of vape products purposely target children and young adults by using various flavors and the proposed legislation is necessary to proactively protect county youths.
“This is the right thing to do. We are going to have a lot of businesses who say we are trying to put them out of business,” Rice said. “No, I’m trying to save lives.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com