Alpharetta approves stricter laws around tobacco, vape shops

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Amid a national health debate around vaping, Alpharetta’s elected leaders Monday night made it tougher to open and run shops that sell tobacco and vape products.

The ordinance unanimously approved by the Alpharetta City Council limits where the shops can go and how much they can sell in tobacco/vape items.

Now, any Alpharetta business with more than 10% of its sales coming from cigars, cigarettes, vape or tobacco products may not be within 2,000 feet of the following places: a school, religious institution, government building, park, residential dwelling or another smoke/vape shop.

Councilman Ben Burnett, who created the ordinance, has said it isn’t right for the city of roughly 65,000 to outright ban anything legal, like proper vaping, but he said using the city’s land-use rules limits where they can go.

Milton and Johns Creek each decided to not allow any shop with 25% of its business from vaporized nicotine products. Also on Monday, Snellville added vaping to its smoking ban in city-owned buildings, parks and other spaces.

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Vapes and e-cigarettes have a small heating element that turns liquid nicotine — often mixed with flavoring — into a vapor that doesn’t linger or smell like tobacco smoke. Some devices can take cartridges that have THC, the substance in marijuana that gives a high, but these are not legal in Georgia.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August released word about the first death linked to vaping. The second Georgia death was confirmed earlier this month.

A few weeks ago, the CDC announced that 1,080 lung injury cases have been linked to the use of e-cigarette or vaping products across the nation.

A U.S. House panel is considering a bill that would increase taxes on vaping products to make them taxed at the same rate as cigarettes.

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Closer to home, an Alpharetta student in October 2018 became unconscious after vaping "Green Mist" while at King's Ridge Christian School. Reports indicate the product was purchased from a Milton vape shop.

As has been reported, school districts have lots of things to curb vaping in students: increased punishment, peer-generated public service announcements, adult monitors in hallways, vape-detection sensors and even taking doors off bathroom stalls.

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This is a May 20, 2019 map of smoke shops in Alpharetta that sell vape products. (Courtesy city of Alpharetta)

Credit: Courtesy city of Alpharetta

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy city of Alpharetta

Fulton has held PSA contests for students to make anti-vaping videos. And teachers at Webb Bridge Middle School has canvassed vape shops near campus.

Alpharetta council members started publicly looking at regulating vaping in May, with a particular focus on children.

Alpharetta council members moved the local measure forward at a Sept. 23 meeting. The issue of distance between vape shops and ease of access came up in late August when the Alpharetta City Council denied an application for a new vape shop.

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Alpharetta police Chief John Robison said it is illegal for people under 18 to buy vaping products. Even still, he said it is a “rampant” problem in middle and high schools.

Katie Reeves, the Fulton County School Board member for North Fulton, told council members in May that students are hiding the vapes, sometimes the size of a flash drive, in the folds of their hoodies.

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“The teacher turns around, the room smells like strawberries and nobody knows the difference, it dissipates really fast,” she said.

She called it the problem “a Herculean and impossible task for our schools to stay on top of.” Adding: “They’re losing the battle right now.”

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