Johns Creek issues moratorium on new vape shops

New vaping shops are on hold in Johns Creek. The city imposed a six-month moratorium on business licenses and building permits for vape and smoke shops. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Combined ShapeCaption
New vaping shops are on hold in Johns Creek. The city imposed a six-month moratorium on business licenses and building permits for vape and smoke shops. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

New vape shops are on hold in Johns Creek for six months. Officials will research how nearby cities address vape businesses and draft an update to Johns Creek’s existing zoning code, Community Development Director Ben Song said.

In a split vote, City Council approved the moratorium during a Monday meeting. Council members Stephanie Andres and Chris Coughlin opposed the vote saying the city’s vaping problem can’t be solved by a moratorium and could be viewed as anti-business.

“We wouldn’t do a development moratorium … " Endres said. “I’m not a supporter of vaping but it’s very difficult to legislate morality. Restricting the free market goes against the foundational principles this nation was founded on.”

There are 10 vape or smoke shops in the city, Song said. The director said city staff fielded seven phone calls in August from parties interested in opening new vape shops but no applications were submitted.

Vape and smoke shops are defined by Johns Creek as businesses with sales primarily focused on tobacco, nicotine, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, hookahs, vapes and more, Song said.

A 2019 Johns Creek zoning amendment targeted vaping, allowing no more than 25 percent of a store’s floor area to the sale or advertisement of vape-related products. But business owners found ways to work around the law, according to the city, and opened lounge areas in the shops to promote the use of their products.

Other local cities have taken steps to curb vaping shops. Two years ago, Alpharetta approved a new law stipulating any business with more than 10% of its sales coming from vape or tobacco products may not be within 2,000 feet of a school, religious institution, government building, park, residential dwelling or another smoke/vape shop.

In DeKalb County, Avondale Estates rewrote its zoning code during an eight-month moratorium that ended in July. Vape and smoke shops there aren’t allowed within 500 feet of a similar business. They also can’t be within 300 feet of several other locations, such as schools, places of worship or gathering areas for children.

Before Monday’s vote in Johns Creek, Alyse Hensel, a member of One Johns Creek Coalition which works to reduce drug use among youth, urged City Council to approve the moratorium. One Johns Creek provided data to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showing more than 40% of Johns Creek students who smoked tobacco or marijuana or misused prescription drugs during a 30-day period had thoughts of suicide.

Coughlin told fellow council members that he supports regulations on vaping businesses but the moratorium further hurts struggling shopping centers where new establishments might open. And the moratorium will not serve to prohibit substance abuse, he added.

“...It’s up to the churches, the parents ...” He said. “It’s up to other folks to make sure you don’t abuse those substances.”

Councilman John Bradberry said it would be risky to not issue the moratorium.

“If we don’t do it, just be aware that we will have a rash of new applications,” Bradberry said before voting for the moratorium. “Are you ready and willing for there to be a doubling perhaps of those businesses in Johns Creek?”