Manhattan is considering amending laws on smoking and vaping in public areas as well as in stores that market the wares.
The Manhattan City Commission Tuesday discussed combining regulations on the use of e-cigarettes and ordinary cigarettes under the same ordinance, requested by the Flint Hills Wellness Coalition in January. As it was a work session, they held no official vote.
Riley County Health Department Director Jennifer Green says vaping has doubled among high school students in Riley County in the past year. She says smoking rates decreased 10 percent since the smoking was banned in public 10 years ago, and that education campaigns are not enough to do the same in regard to vaping.
“Knowing better does not always result in doing better,” says Green. “We need to create norms and policy change that will help that and we can do that through a policy change like this.”
Proposed elements of the combined regulations would prohibit smoking and vaping in certain non-enclosed areas like city garages and within the bounds of Manhattan parks and trails. Current regulations for cigarettes and vape devices do not completely ban in parks or recreation facilities, but do ban their use within 20 feet of playgrounds, bleachers, pools and seating areas at ballparks and fields.
“We want to make sure that children are seeing acceptable behavior,” says Riley County Health Chronic Disease Risk Reduction Coordinator Shanika Rose, who called vaping an epidemic among minors and that they learn from adults. “Parks are about clean air, natural beauty and engaging in healthy activity and smoking just doesn’t fit in there.”
The draft ordinance would also ban their use in indoor public spaces, taxi and ride-share services, common areas in public or private buildings like hallways and restrooms and in places of employment. Additionally, it would prohibit vaping and smoking on outdoor restaurant patios altogether, which gave Commissioner Jerred McKee some pause. He says at least on patios it is possible to avoid those using such products compared to pushing them to walkways.
“I don’t really want to be walking down the sidewalk and have to be forced to walk through someone who’s smoking because I can’t avoid them on the sidewalk,” says McKee.
City administrative staff sought direction from the commission on whether to ban vaping inside vape stores, which has been expressly permitted since the 2016 ordinance on vaping passed. The voter-initiated 2008 smoking regulations do not allow smoking in tobacco retail stores, and staff recommended that commissioners either ban both smoking and vaping in stores that sell such products or allow both out of fairness. Commissioner Wynn Butler favored the latter.
“If I own a winery, I can give samples of wine,” says Butler. “A retail liquor store, according to ABC laws, can pass out samples — what’s the difference when we talk consistency?”
Mayor Mike Dodson agreed, while Mayor Pro Tempore Usha Reddi and Commissioners Linda Morse and McKee were more in favor of banning vaping in such stores altogether.
“In 2016, I supported not allowing vaping in vape stores but the rest of the commission didn’t follow that,” says Morse. “I still support that.”
The topic also shifted to restrictions on selling flavored vape fluid and raising the age for purchases to 21, though City Attorney Katherine Jackson says those would have to be instituted in different ordinances and flavoring restrictions may be outside of their control altogether.
Multiple vape retail owners spoke during public comment, saying the national focus on flavorings is overblown and plays into the hands of tobacco industry lobbyists who want to crush local businesses. Juicy’s Vapor Lounge Owner Travis Kirby says that nicotine salts in brands like Juul introduced in 2016 that contain high nicotine levels are more enticing to teens than flavoring.
“The CDC has already came out and said the biggest majority of these cases are from black market THC cartridges that are being sold on the street, “says Kirby. “That’s caused the lung issues and all the health problems.”
The Vape Bar owner Antonio Saverino says he works with Kirby to ensure they do not sell to minors and high school students, and that vaping in their store has been part of their business model for years.
“We don’t want 18 year olds,” says Saverino. “We don’t sell Juul products.”
McKee responded that he didn’t fully agree that flavoring plays no role in enticing young customers as he began vaping at 19 in part due to the flavors when he never would have smoked a cigarette. Reddi said after the remarks from vape industry professionals that she wants more data on how flavoring influences young people to begin using nicotine and vapes.
“I don’t know enough about that industry so I would like to be more clear about that before I say no flavoring,” says Reddi.
Fines for violations listed in the draft ordinance are not to exceed $100 for first time offenses, not to exceed $200 for the second and not to exceed $500 for the third within a one year period. It also requires that businesses include a no vaping sign in addition to currently required no smoking signs. Mayor Dodson spoke in favor of only requiring smokers and vape users be 10 feet from entryways rather than 20 and was adamant that they not go overboard with signage at parks.
“If it’s at the entry, that’s fine with me,” says Dodson. “But I don’t want signs everywhere in the park.”
The ordinance will be amended based on feedback from the commission and will come back before the body at a future meeting for further discussion and potential approval.