Westminster OKs Restrictions on E-Cigarette Shops

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The Westminster City Council Wednesday night voted to require a police permit for smoke shops and businesses that devote substantial space to selling electronic and vapor cigarettes.

The city council voted 4-0, with council member Andy Quach abstaining, to pass the ordinance in the interest of the “public health, safety and welfare of the community,” according to the ordinance.

The ordinance:

• Limits hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

• Limits the tinting and covering of windows

• Requires permits to be displayed prominently

• Requires businesses to be 500 feet from any school

• Requires a distance of 1,500 feet from similar businesses

Businesses that devote at least 10 percent of their floor space to vapor and smoke products are affected by the new rules. According to city staff, the restrictions on location and distance only apply to new retailers, and existing businesses have 30 days to make changes to their shops’ appearance and signs.

The ordinance comes after council members expressed concern in April with the increasing number of e-cigarette retailers in Westminster. A growing number of California cities are introducing restrictions on e-cigarettes, battery-powered devices that heat a liquid, infused with nicotine or flavors, into a vapor that is inhaled into the lungs.

Manufacturers and retailers say e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco products and can even help smokers quit. They also say that, because the devices give off a vapor, there’s no danger of secondhand smoke.

But critics and public health officials, including the Food and Drug Administration, warn that e-cigarettes are a gateway drug, and that not enough is known about the chemicals in the product to rule out potential hazards of the vapor. The FDA is currently seeking to extend its authority on tobacco products to regulate electronic cigarettes.

Westminster joins the ranks of cities in Orange County and across the country that have responded to the sudden popularity of e-cigarettes with new regulations. In Seal Beach, city officials have restricted e-cigarette and smoke shops to commercial zones.

Buena Park passed a ban on all smoking, tobacco or electronic, in its public parks. In March, the city of Los Angeles banned the use of e-cigarettes from restaurants, bars and other public spaces.

The council members approved the ordinance with little discussion. After the meeting, Quach said he abstained from the vote because of the lack of consensus on the health effects of e-cigarette vapor.

“[E-cigarettes] are a relatively new thing…they give off vapor, not smoke. And some of the liquids don’t have any nicotine,” Quach said. “I wasn’t ready to classify them as dangerous tobacco products.”

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