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Viewpoints: Banning vape shops near church won’t stop kids from vaping

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Banning vape shops near church won’t stop kids from vaping

Elijah Gullett’s point of view

State and local governments across the United States are cracking down on small vape shops. It’s bad business for entrepreneurship, public health and individual liberty.

Juul, the leading company in the creation of nicotine-based vaping products (or e-cigarettes), has been making headlines recently. The FDA pulled Juul from the market, prohibiting him from legally selling his products. That directive was suspended by the DC District Court, so Juul can still sell its product, but its legal future remains uncertain.

While the federal government is cracking down on Juul, another battle over e-cigarettes is unfolding at the state and local levels. States and localities across the United States have begun to place limits on where “vape shops” can set up shop. North Carolina remains relatively liberal on this issue, requiring only a Licence to sell e-cigarette products, but across the country, stricter regulations are being put in place. The problems posed by these regulations should serve as a warning to NC regulators to avoid heavy handedness.

Regulations from other states and localities are often to understand ban vape shops near schools and daycares, but may also extend to bans near churches, public parks and sports fields. The stated goals of these policies are to reduce sales of vaping products to minors, but interestingly these same laws do not not apply to convenience stores and gas stations that often also sell the same vaping products. So while a local vape vendor might not be allowed to set up near a church, the gas station across the street is free to sell vape products.

Utah stands out as a particularly restrictive state. To open a vape shop in Utah, you must first obtain both an e-cigarette license from the state government and a tobacco retail license from the local health department. In addition, Retail vape shops are banned within 1,000 feet of “community centers” including schools, playgrounds, daycare centers and churches. Additionally, the density of vaping retailers is restricted and specialty tobacco stores must be at least 600 feet apart. Finally, Utah has an additional ban on vape shops within 600 feet of agricultural or residential property. As in other states, these regulations not include other retailers who may also sell e-cigarettes, thereby creating unequal conditions of competition. Beyond Utah state laws, localities are allowed to be even stricter.

These prohibitions often feel like the right thing to do. We have a justified interest in the health and safety of children and their protection from harmful substances. This feeling, however, does not tell us whether these bans will have the desired effect. Especially when the costs are potentially so high for vape shop owners and adults seeking less harmful alternatives, policymakers should set aside sentiment for facts.

Additionally, these bans often do not include other co-ed retail stores that sell vaping products, such as gas stations, grocery stores, and convenience stores. Targeting vape shop owners, without limiting sales of these products in other stores, is an arbitrary use of state power. These vape shops are often owned and operated by new small business owners, who already face licensing requirements, burdensome tax regimes, and permit requirements. They now face an even more unequal playing field with large companies like grocery stores and gas station chains to sell similar products.

Governments should not discriminate against any particular type of company based on such flimsy evidence. Electronic cigarettes should remain a viable option for those looking for a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes. The policy should be developed based on rigorous evidence, as well as intentions to protect both minors and those struggling with nicotine addiction. These zoning laws often fail to achieve these goals, while simultaneously harming small business owners and protecting the interests of large retail chains.

Elijah Gullett is a contributor to Young Voices from Raleigh, North Carolina. He recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he studied public policy and urban planning. His writings and research focus on market-based solutions to the problems of urban life. He has bylines at the Foundation for Economic Education, C3 Solutions and Exponents Magazine.


Viewpoints on Chapelboro is a recurring series of opinion columns submitted by the community. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.