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Here’s how commissioners might change Forsyth County’s vape ordinance

In recent years, nicotine vaporizers, or vapes, have become a popular alternative to smoking, but their emergence has raised issues with potential health impacts and reports of heavy underage use.

At Thursday’s meeting, commissioners discussed potentially increasing regulation on stores selling vapes, including increasing the minimum age to buy the products.

“I know a lot of cities and a lot of states have already raised the vaping age to 21,” said District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills.

Another proposal raised by Mills, which she said she had heard about from leaders in another jurisdiction, was to increase the distance between stores carrying vape products and local schools and churches.

Other actions taken at the work session:

• Approved a bid worth $49,915 to Pond & Company to handle master planning for services for Phase 4 of the Sawnee Mountain Preserve.

• OK’d District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper continuing to work with city and development officials related to the annexation of about 150 acres on Market Place Boulevard and Turner Road. Commissioners previously opposed to the annexation, leading to an arbitration process.

• Decided to hold another public hearing for a truck terminal operated by RUS-AL (USA) Inc., at 755 Union Hill Road. After a previous public hearing, commissioners were slated to make a decision at their next regular meeting but will hold another public hearing on Thursday, Dec. 5.

• Moved ahead with the purchase of two replacement 2020 Ford Explorers for the parks and recreation department for about $55,000. 

Saying she understood keeping the products away from students, District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper said she was against limiting the rights of adults to use the products and favored upping the age rather than prohibiting selling vapes in the county, which had also been brought up.

“To me, to be outlawing what adults [are doing], and some of the adults have used this to stop smoking and haven’t had these ill effects, so to throw it all together and to say it’s a horrible thing and throw it out, what if we just raise the age limit to 21 and model it like we have with alcohol?” Cooper said.

Noting that smoking was not allowed inside businesses, Commissioner Todd Levent, who represents District 3, said the county should consider similar rules for vaping.

In recent years, commissioners have taken several steps to limit getting vapes in the hands of underage users, including a current rule prohibiting stores within 100 yards of schools, tying alcohol licenses to vaping and other non-traditional tobacco violations and banning anyone under 18 from going into vape stores.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said a number of cities and counties did not allow vaping in businesses and some have extended that ban to bars and restaurants.

He said one issue with any new rule would have to be in line with rules for other tobacco products like cigarettes.

“There has to be a rational relationship between why we’re taking the action and what the evil is we’re attempting to stop,” Jarrard said. “The only concern I have is if we don’t take action, for instance, on the minimum age for cigarettes but we do on vaping, the question could be reasonably raised, ‘How are you making the line of division between the two?’”

Commissioners directed Jarrard to bring a proposal to align vaping and cigarettes in the code back to a future meeting.

Promoted as an alternative to smoking, vaping has been a big focus nationwide in recent years.

In October, Georgia Department of Public Health officials confirmed the second death in the state linked to vaping in the death of a person hospitalized with a lung injury and who had a history of nicotine vaping.

Health officials say there have been 14 cases of lung illnesses linked to vaping in Georgia, including the two deaths. Another 20 possible cases were under review at the time, according to The Associated Press.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating reports of more than 1,000 illnesses nationwide linked to vaping, including at least 18 deaths.

Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia health officials urged people to stop using e-cigarettes and other vaping devices while the outbreak is being investigated.