On Tuesday, Feb. 19, Township Council will hold a public hearing on the ordinance, which was introduced earlier this month. It establishes licensing requirements for stores selling electronic smoking devices, prohibits the sale of ESDs to minors, and prohibits establishments defined as vape shops.
The ordinance was developed by health officer Jill Swanson and former Councilwoman Jyotika Bahree.
She first announced her intent to pursue restrictions on vaping last July while she was still a member of township council.
Although she lost re-election in November, she continued to have the support of all five council members and worked with Swanson to finish drafting the measure.
She said that her main concern is over the availability of ESDs to children.
“Pure nicotine is a deadly poison. One drop of it on the skin can kill an adult,” she said in July. “In vaporized form it is hugely addictive. There’s no specific evidence that it helps significantly to wean smokers away from smoking. In fact, it can be a gateway for young people to become smokers later on, providing tobacco manufacturers a solution to the shrinking tobacco market.”
The ordinance defines an ESD as a device used to deliver nicotine or other substances to the person inhaling from the device.
ESDs originally gained popularity as a way provide those addicted to smoking cigarettes with a healthier alternative.
Since then, ESDs have grown in popularity, and become a significant competitor to cigarettes, especially at local convenience stores.
According to Bahree, there have been a number of studies that have shown that there has been a marked increase in vaping by kids under 21. This is coupled with a lack of studies about the negative effects of vaping on kids’ brain development and other health impacts.
“Township council recognizes that electronic smoking devices are available in local retail stores and the risk that young people begin to use these products poses a significant danger to their health and well-being,” states the ordinance.
It also says that the U.S. Surgeon General and the federal Centers for Disease Control “recommend a multifaceted, community-wide approach to address this emerging health threat for young people in our communities.”
“We’re still learning about long-term health effects, but there’s also concern for damage to lungs and cardiovascular systems, as well as transitioning to cigarettes,” Swanson said.
While research on whether vaping leads to cigarette smoking, especially in kids, is still in a nascent stage, a 2018 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine sponsored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration looked at the issue.
According to a news release by the academy, the report says that, “Evidence suggests that while e-cigarettes are not without health risks, they are likely to be far less harmful than conventional cigarettes.
“They contain fewer numbers and lower levels of toxic substances than conventional cigarettes, and using e-cigarettes may help adults who smoke conventional cigarettes quit smoking. However, their long-term health effects are not yet clear.
“Among youth— who use e-cigarettes at higher rates than adults do—there is substantial evidence that e-cigarette use increases the risk of transitioning to smoking conventional cigarettes.”
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Bahree told The News in a recent interview that she became concerned when she first heard about the reports and potential side-effects of vaping.
“I was a liaison to the school board from the council, and in one of the meetings, (superintendent) David Aderhold discussed vaping in schools, and that he would appreciate the townships’ help with this issue,” Bahree said. “So, I decided to take ownership of the issue and figure out what’s going on.”
After doing some research, Bahree discussed the issue with Aderhold and township parents. She also attended presentations on vaping in nearby townships. She then reached out to Swanson to see what could be done to deal with vaping in West Windsor township.
From there, Swanson researched what had already been done to combat this issue, and what could be done moving forward.
“New Jersey’s ‘Smoke Free Air Act’ defines electronic cigarettes as part of smoking,’ Swanson said. “Based on other regulations, the age restriction for e-cigarettes is 21.”
However, since these regulations did not deal with the recent rise in vaping, many nearby townships nearby—including Princeton, Montgomery and South Brunswick—have already adopted ordinances to limit the use of ESDs, particularly by youth.
Swanson worked with council on the specifics. “When we first went to the council regarding the ordinance, we got some input that we didn’t want to prohibit the sale of vaping devices altogether, but instead prohibiting businesses whose main goal was to sell these products,” she said.
The ordinance defines vape shops as “a retailer that either devotes 25 percent or more of their floor or display area to, or derives 75 percent or more of their gross sales receipts from, the sale of electronic smoking devices and/or related products.” The definition was adopted from a similar ordinance in West Caldwell Township.
While there are no vape shops, under this definition, in West Windsor, the ordinance also places regulations on all establishments that sell vaping products, and it prohibits the sale of such products to anyone under the age of 21.
The ordinance also requires that these stores obtain an annual license to sell ESDs at a cost of $1,500. Once they obtain the license, the stores must train all employees selling ESDs to be aware of the regulations and document that the training has occurred.
The stores must also display a 6-inch by 8-inch sign alerting customers that the age minimum to buy vaping products is 21.
Anyone found to be in violation of the ordinance would be fined $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second violation and $1,000 for third and each subsequent violation. Each violation, and every day in which a violation occurs, constitutes a separate violation.
In addition to the penalties, any establishment found guilty of three or more violations would, upon conviction, have its license permanently revoked.
Any funds accrued from fines and license fees will be used towards education and training on the impacts of vaping, the ordinance requires.
Swanson said the measure will provide the township a greater ability to act on these issues. “The main focus is to limit access, and train individuals at the point of sale.”
Bahree said that while it is difficult for the council to monitor online purchases, she believes the larger signs and enforcement measures will curb sales.
“Moreover, this will also help kids be informed,” she said. “A lot of kids experiment with vaping because of peer pressure. Hopefully, through funding from license fees we can create awareness programs and have health officials go to schools and talk about this issue.”
For steps to improve this program and counter peer pressure, Bahree suggests that schools and the township can utilize social media to connect with youth and better inform about the harmful effects of vaping.
While the West Windsor council is unanimous in its support of the ordinance (it was introduced by a 5-0 vote), students in the WW-P school district are divided.
South alumnus and Temple University freshman Viraj Shah told The News that he believes the ordinance is redundant to state measures, and that it would be generally ineffective.
He said the new regulations might hurt local businesses. “Most shops in West Windsor are small businesses, and even franchises have local owners. These businesses have to do a lot in order to succeed, and government regulation make it even harder.”
“Signage is not going to stop a teen from vaping if they want to,” he said, adding that the ordinance might have unintended consequences.
“These kids will move to cigarettes and get their pack a day worth of nicotine,” he said. “We would much rather have a Juul epidemic than go back to the days where there was a cigarette epidemic among kids.”
Meanwhile, current South senior Naman Sarda said he believes that this ordinance is a good, though imperfect, start to dealing with the issue.
“I think what’s listed in the ordinance is really fair as to the punishments laid out and the ability to get a license,” he said. “I don’t think it’s too prohibitive, but it seems like a fair measure.”
He said that dealing with the issue of vaping is necessary. “It’s not healthy for teenagers to be involved in, and it will have negative ramifications in their lifetime.”
While Sarda notes that there are likely many other ways to obtain vaping devices, he acknowledges that “within West Windsor, this ordinance is definitely a good place to start.”
During the Feb. 19 meeting, the council will hear comments on this ordinance, and will likely vote on the measure.
Council president Alison Miller stressed the importance of countering vaping and another rise in tobacco products. “Far more people are now starting with vaping, and because of the nicotine, it can be really harmful,” she said.