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With regulation looming, some vape shops push responsibility, welcome oversight
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Planet X Smoke & Vape Gainesville manager Trevor Comeaux reaches for a bottle of vape liquid Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, at the John Morrow parkway location. Gainesville has placed a moratorium on new vape shops while city officials work on regulations for these businesses. The Hall County Board of Commissioners has also issued a moratorium on vape shops through December. - photo by Scott Rogers

As Gainesville and Hall County move to regulate vape shops amid national news of vaping-related deaths, local shop owners say they are keeping an eye on the research and taking steps to run their own shops responsibly.

Wanda Sanders, who owns Planet X Smoke & Vape on John Morrow Parkway in Gainesville with husband Bill, said vape shops should be regulated, and more oversight could help keep people who vape safer.

Sanders, who smoked cigarettes for 35 years, has been vaping for six years and said vaping helped her leave cigarettes behind.

“My lungs are clearer now. I know what it can do,” she said. “That’s why we got into the business. We try to help people get off the cigarettes.”

While cigarette smokers can benefit from switching to vaping, Sanders said vaping should be for adults only, and she is concerned about the products getting into the hands of minors. It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to someone under the age of 18.

Vape shops should be required to ask for identification at the door, she said.

“We have had (minors) come in the store, and you can spot them with their bookbags,” Sanders said. “We ask for their ID and send them out immediately.”

And “third-party sales” are another warning sign.

“They’ll be on the phone with somebody, and they’ll say, ‘what flavor do you want?’” she said. “We can’t do that, because I don’t know if that person is a minor or not.”

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The City of Gainesville has placed a 120-day moratorium on new vape shops while city officials work on regulations for these businesses. The Hall County Board of Commissioners has also issued a moratorium on vape shops through December. - photo by Scott Rogers
About this story

With a recent spate of deaths and illnesses tied to vaping, many people have more questions about the practice. The Times has been following the issue since local officials began examining how to regulate the industry. For these articles, The Times spoke with government and health officials and vape shop owners, and drew information from the CDC, the Department of Public Health and national reporting from the Associated Press.

Wesley Hieber, owner of My Vape Shoppe on Browns Bridge Road in unincorporated Hall, said his store also asks for identification at the door. It can be difficult to tell where those products go when they leave the shop, though.

“The sad truth is, if an 18-year-old comes in here and sells it to a friend after he leaves here, that’s the hard part,” Hieber said. “That’s what everyone is trying to figure out how to fix. … We don’t want the youth of this world getting addicted to something they don’t need to be addicted to, especially at such a young age.” 

Hieber said vape shop owners have been trying to get more information on proposed regulations, but what’s to come is still unclear. 

The Hall County Board of Commissioners had been set to vote on new rules at its Oct. 10 meeting, but the item was tabled until Dec. 12 so officials can spend more time studying the issue. No new vape shops can get a business license until then.

Gainesville has also put a moratorium on new vape shops, approved by the Gainesville City Council on Oct. 1. It will last 120 days, or until an ordinance regulating vape shops is passed, whichever time period is shorter.

Hall County had proposed charging vape shops an annual license fee of $2,000. As for a business selling to an underage person, the first violation within a two-year period would result in a mandatory hearing before commissioners, a minimum $500 fine and a license suspension for up to 60 days. The second violation within a two-year period would result in a mandatory hearing before commissioners, but the business would lose its license and have to pay a $750 minimum fine. Forsyth County has a similar ordinance that was used as a model.

Under state law, selling to a minor is a misdemeanor, for which the punishment is no more than 12 months in prison or probation and up to a $1,000 fine, county spokeswoman Katie Crumley said. The state code does not require a standard fine. 

These votes come as vaping-related deaths are making headlines. On Wednesday, the Georgia Department of Public Health identified the state’s second death associated with a vaping-related illness. More than 1,000 vaping-associated lung injuries have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including at least 18 deaths. No specific device or substance has been linked to the cases, although the CDC’s investigation has shown that products containing THC play a role in the outbreak.

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Hemp based vaping luiquids on display Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, at Planet X Smoke & Vape Gainesville. The City of Gainesville has placed a 120-day moratorium on new vape shops while city officials work on regulations for these businesses. The Hall County Board of Commissioners has also issued a moratorium on vape shops through December. - photo by Scott Rogers

The Department of Public Health advised in a press release that people who vape should not buy vaping products off the street or modify or add anything to them.

Sanders said vape shops should be required to keep records of what they sell, and they should know the origins of their products. Products made outside the United States can come with additional risks, she said.

“I believe we should be made to keep records for two or three years where we can trace it back,” she said. “... (Other countries’) laws are different than ours. They may be allowed to produce something that the United States or Georgia says is illegal.”

Convenience stores, which often sell e-cigarettes or vaping products but do not specialize as vape shops, may have lower prices, but the products are more likely to come from overseas, she said.

“You can go in and buy a pod for $1.99. That’s your first sign right there, because they’re notorious for purchasing products that come from China or wherever,” she said. “They buy cheap, and they sell cheap.”

The THC cartridges are illegal in Georgia, and Hieber said reputable shops won’t sell them. But local business owners are working to stay up-to-date on news about vaping and hope to inform people about safer, legal ways to do it, he said.

“We all take the time to educate our customers, let them know what’s going on in the industry, why the news media is saying what it’s saying about the vape industry,” Hieber said. “But essentially, we’re here to help people quit smoking and try to live a healthier life.”

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