By JB Clark
TUPELO – The Tupelo City Council may vote next week on adding electronic cigarettes to the city’s public smoking ban, but the ordinance will include concessions to traditional tobacco businesses as well as those with heavy sales in the battery-operated vaporizers.
A split council delayed action last week on adding e-cigarettes to the city’s smoking ordinance, with several council members saying they wanted more time to gather information and ensure safeguards for the businesses that sell them.
At Monday’s council work session, City Attorney Ben Logan said e-cigarettes – battery-operated devices used to deliver nicotine and other chemicals through vaporized flavored and scented water – would be illegal in public places just like cigarettes if the council decided to move forward with an affirmative vote.
To accommodate business owners who already have been granted permits to open e-cigarette shops, where many have set up areas for customers to test the products, Logan said the proposed ordinance would allow e-cigarettes to be smoked in shops where e-cigarettes make up at least 50 percent of sales.
In order to be fair to other products whose use in public places is outlawed by the city’s smoking ordinance, Logan said tobacco shops and cigar shops also could allow customers to test and use the products inside the store as long as the store did at least 50 percent of its business in those tobacco products.
“It’s a question of fairness and application of the law across the board,” Logan said. “If they are selling cigars and smoking cigars there, this would exempt them from the tobacco ordinance, as long as they didn’t sell other things up to 51 percent of their total sales.”
Logan emphasized that in places like gas stations and convenience stores where tobacco does not constitute at least 50 percent of the sales, tobacco could not be smoked under the revised ordinance. He also said the ordinance differentiates between cigarettes and e-cigarettes so cigarettes cannot be smoked in e-cigarette stores.
Council President Mike Bryan asked Logan to have the updated ordinance prepared for the next board meeting Aug. 19.