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Beltrami County Commissioners approve nicotine-free vaping

BEMIDJI -- Nicotine-free sampling at vaping shops is legal in Beltrami County.

In a unanimous vote, commissioners compromised on and passed revisions to the tobacco ordinances that were previously written in a way that would make sampling of vaping liquid at Northern Vapes, Bemidji’s only vaping shop, illegal.

“We’ll just keep doing things as we have been,” said Matt Bewley, Northern Vapes owner. Bewley only samples with nicotine-free vaping liquid in his shop.

The second reading of the ordinances on Nov. 19 resulted in a 3-to-2 vote in which Commissioners Jim Lucachick and Tim Sumner voted against passing Ordinance 38A if it prohibited sampling. Lucachick asked at that time, and again Tuesday night, there be a compromise.

“Don’t paint me like I want to get e-cigarettes out to middle schoolers and all that,” Lucachick said. “Don’t sensationalize me that way, please.”

Lucachick said he’s always been in favor of revisions to the ordinances, but thought closing a “sampling loophole” for businesses went a step too far.

Commissioners Richard Anderson and Jack Frost have continually voiced strong opposition against allowing vaping. Creation of hookah lounges and insufficient scientific evidence were among their, and the other commissioner’s concerns.

Frost said he was concerned sampling would open exploitation by business owners other than Bewley in the future.

“I have no doubt that the local merchandiser of e-cigarettes has intentions that are honorable. His motives are pure,” said Commissioner Joe Vene. He added that concern arises when it comes to enforcement of the product being non-nicotine.

Sheriff Phil Hodapp said he was not sure how law enforcement would enforce the law short of going into a business and testing the product which would require probable cause, seizure and obtaining a search warrant.

“That would make that part of the law virtually unenforceable,” Hodapp said.

Section 4 of Ordinance 38A outlines where smoking is permitted in the county. Until Tuesday night it contained a subdivision that would prevent sampling of tobacco products in a shop. Nicotine liquid used in vaping devices is considered a tobacco product.

Beltrami County Attorney Tim Faver will be rewriting that subdivision to allow for non-nicotine products, electronic or otherwise, to be allowed.

Ordinance 29 pertains to the tobacco licensing and sales regulations which has been adjusted to include vaping liquid and devices.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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