Alpharetta denies vape shop as vaping debate continues

Metro Atlanta’s Northside communities are trying to figure out how to regulate vaping as federal authorities research its effects. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Metro Atlanta’s Northside communities are trying to figure out how to regulate vaping as federal authorities research its effects. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

As metro Atlanta’s Northside communities move to regulate vaping, Alpharetta has denied an application for a new vape shop.

The Alpharetta City Council Monday unanimously voted against a rezoning to allow Xhale City at 3630 Old Milton Parkway. According to the Xhale City website, since opening in 2014 the business has grown to 22 locations around metro Atlanta, including stores in Roswell and Sandy Springs.

The application came as Alpharetta tries to find a way to ban vape shops, and after the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released a statement about the first death linked to vaping.

Vapes and e-cigarettes have a small heating element that turns liquid nicotine — often mixed with flavoring — into a vapor that doesn't linger in the air like tobacco smoke. Fulton County schools have also been struggling with vaping in classrooms.

READ | Milton bans synthetic marijuana, opiates after teen incidents

The CDC is investigating a growing number of lung disease cases possibly linked to vaping in Georgia and elsewhere around the country.

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

Milton and Johns Creek have since decided to not allow any shop with 25% of its business from vaporized nicotine products.

Alpharetta wants to use zoning laws to block the shops instead of an outright ban. Other cities have also considered this, but blanket bans can raise legal challenges for cities.

According to public records attached to the Alpharetta shop rezoning request, one resident of the neighboring Camden Pond condos emailed the city saying she was against the project because there is already a vape shop in a nearby strip mall and another down the road from where this one would have been located.

READ | Sandy Springs' most notable tree to be removed due to safety concerns

George Awuku, engineer and designer for the vape shop, told the City Council on Monday that he can understand the reluctance to have more vape shops, but he said “in this country competition wins.” He compared it to not allowing a franchisee to open another McDonald’s because there are already so many.

Councilman Ben Burnett said he was sensitive to the argument of allowing free enterprise but said the city’s zoning laws are there for a reason.

When city staff was explaining why they recommended the City Council deny the application, staff said the company sold items that could be “related to drug paraphernalia” and then put a picture on the chamber screen from Xhale City’s inventory of a water pipe meant for tobacco but can easily be used to smoke marijuana.

The city’s planning commission is set to discuss the zoning changes to regulate the shops at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 5 in the council chambers at city hall, 2 Park Plaza. If approved, the change would go before the full City Council at the Sept. 23 meeting.

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There's been nearly 200 cases reported of a lung sickness tied to vaping.