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Beltrami County Board: County moving forward with vaping ban

BEMIDJI — Vaping in Beltrami County may be going up in smoke before it gets off the ground.

Beltrami County commissioners reviewed two proposed changes involving tobacco licensing and smoke free public places at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Beltrami County Attorney Tim Faver said the ordinances deal primarily with the advent of e-cigarettes and electronic delivery devices (EDD). He referred to e-cigarettes as a "subspecies" of EDDs.

Faver adapted the ordinances to expand the definitions of "tobacco" and "smoking." Several sections of both ordinances have modifications proposed that would limit the distribution and legal use of EDDs in Beltrami County.

The city of Bemidji is also pursuing changes to its tobacco sales ordinance.

Ordinance 29 is the county’s tobacco licensing and sales regulation ordinance, under which any violation would be increased from a $700 fine to $1,000 with the proposed changes.

In addition to the term "electronic delivery device" being interjected into many sections, Section I of Ordinance 29 reads, "The County further recognizes that electronic delivery devices or e-cigarettes closely resemble and purposefully mimic the act of smoking by having users inhale vaporized liquid nicotine or other substances created by heat through an electronic ignition system."

The term "smoking" would include inhaling or exhaling from an EDD. However, under section F which defines "tobacco," if the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) legalized the substance used in EDDs for the purpose of tobacco cessation or other medical purposes and it was marketed as such, it would then be legal in Beltrami County.

Ordinance 38A outlines the county’s smoke free ordinance for indoor public places and places of work.

According to the proposed changes to Ordinance 38A, the FDA has tested e-cigarettes from two leading manufacturers and determined that detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals were present.

Bemidji has one vaping shop, Northern Vapes. Following Tuesday’s meeting, owner Matt Bewley pointed out the FDA studies referenced were from 2009.

"I just want people to make an informed decision," Bewley said.

The amended ordinance continues, "E-cigarettes produce a vapor of undetermined and potentially harmful substances, which may appear similar to smoke emitted by traditional tobacco products."

Thus far, studies have not proved nor disproved whether or not the effects of the "smoke" expelled when vaping are harmful.

By revisiting the ordinances it was revealed the previous ordinance regarding sale still included a section on vending machines which would be removed as part of the revised ordinance.

"Since these ordinances were passed, the vending machines for cigarettes no longer exist," Faver said.

Additionally, Faver proposed removing Section 4 Subd. 4 from Ordinance 38A as it pertains to tobacco shops.

"As the ordinance currently exists, if an individual goes into a tobacco products shop, which is defined as a place of business that derives more than 90 percent of its gross revenue from tobacco and tobacco products, it is exempted from the restriction on smoking in public places," Faver said. "The proposal is to remove that restriction so there would be a restriction on smoking and basically tobacco stores."

Commissioner Jim Lucachick questioned why the provision was left in the ordinance to allow sampling in a smoke shop.

"It allowed you to go inside and sample a cigarette or a cigar or some pipe tobacco," Lucachick said. "In a nutshell I see that as the very essence of this whole discussion."

"I think Commissioner Lucachick has really identified the issue with respect to Ordinance 38A," Faver said.

The first reading of the ordinances passed unanimously on Tuesday. Commissioner Tim Sumner was not present.

A second reading is planned for November 19 during a public hearing.

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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