ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Councilmembers Gabe Albornoz and Craig Rice announced legislation that would prohibit vape shops from opening within a half-mile of middle and high schools in the county on Sept. 16.
The legislation would also prohibit e-cigarette and vape manufacturers, like Juul, from distributing their products near schools.
“The goal of these prohibitions is to protect students’ health and limit their ability to purchase nicotine vaping products. It is illegal for retailers to sell such products to Montgomery County residents under the age of 21, except for active-duty military service members over the age of 18,” according to the council.
Albornoz explained that earlier this year, he attended a work session led by Dr. Travis Gayles, who serves as the chief of Public Health Services in the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. During the work session, Albornoz noted the epidemic proportions at which middle and high school students are using vapes and e-cigarettes.
“As the parent of four young children, I was floored by the epidemic that has grown so significantly and so quickly here in Montgomery County,” Albornoz said. “I was alarmed to hear of numerous cases in which high school students were leaving at lunchtime to purchase vaping products and then selling them to younger students in the afternoon.”
Rice also noted concern for his daughters as inspiration for the legislation.
“When we first started talking about this a few years back and we saw the rise of vaping, I continued to ask (my daughters) whether or not they saw their fellow peers using (vaping devices), and the concerning point was that even my daughter, who was then in sixth grade, saw kids who had these vaping products,” Rice said. “It really is one in which to me it’s very clear that this industry was targeting kids and was very successful at targeting these children.”
In recent years, the use of vapes and e-cigarettes in the United States has risen. The increase is especially noticeable in young people.
Health officials have noted that marketing efforts by vape companies could be appealing to young users. Vaping devices are also typically small and look like other common household items, such as USB drives or pens, which makes them harder for parents and teachers to spot.
“The data from this nationally representative survey shows astonishing increases in kids’ use of e-cigarettes, reversing years of favorable trends in our nation’s fight to prevent youth addiction to tobacco products,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
Between 2017 and 2018, vape use in middle and high school students drastically increased, Gottlieb said. Nearly 3.6 million students were reportedly using e-cigarettes, an increase of 1.5 million students than in the previous year.
As of Sept. 11, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 380 cases of lung illnesses related to the use of an e-cigarette product or vaping. The cases include six deaths.
According to the CDC, medical professionals have not found a reason for these vaping-related lung illnesses, which have included initial symptoms like chest pain, coughing and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fatigue and fever, among others.
According to Gayles, there have been 15 reported cases of severe respiratory illness related to vaping in Maryland, and three Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) students have been transported from school after collapsing.
“We know based on the episodes in our school systems where students who had been vaping required the administration of naloxone to regain consciousness. We know students are using other substances (to vape), and we don’t know what’s rooted in those substances,” Gayles said.
Naloxone is a drug that is typically used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It is usually administered through a nasal spray.
The new legislation for Montgomery County would alter zoning regulations. According to the council, the legislation would allow vape shops only in certain zones, which include commercial, residential, employment and industrial zones.
“Under the proposed use standards, a vape shop must be located at least 0.5 miles from any property in the county on which a middle or high school is located as a principle use,” according to the legislation.
The second piece of legislation announced by Albornoz and Rice on Sept. 16 would prohibit e-cigarette and vape manufacturers from distributing their products to retail stores within a half-mile from middle and high schools in the county. In other words, companies like Juul could not provide their vapes and cartridges to convenience stores that sit too close to a middle or high school.
Albornoz explained that these regulations also extend to private schools in the county.
During discussions on the proposed bill, Council Vice President Sidney Katz noted that the new regulations would have an impact on convenience stores in the county. He explained that many vape stores are small businesses that would feel the economic impact of these new laws.
“I certainly realize that vaping is a serious concern, but I wanted to make certain that if we’re going to do something this serious… it’s the correct thing to do because we’re going to put people out of business,” he said. “I researched it, and this is the right thing to do.”
He went on to say that given the seriousness of the epidemic, state officials also should take steps toward implementing regulations.
According to Albornoz, the rest of the council members have all signed on to co-sponsor the new regulations.
After its introduction during the Sept. 17 meeting, officials scheduled a public hearing on the legislation for Nov. 5.