Businesses like Portland Smoke and Vape on Broadway, which is across the street and less than 100 feet from Mahoney Middle School, will be grandfathered in if rules on tobacco buffer zones go into effect later this month. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND — Councilors gave preliminary approval Oct. 29 to a rule mandating a 1,000-foot buffer be between vape shops and schools. The council also initially approved a 300-foot buffer from childcare facilities, community centers and other places frequented by children.

The proposed rule will go before the Planning Board Nov. 20, and heads back to the council for final approval Nov. 26. This comes after months of debate between councilors and residents.

The city first began restrictions on vaping in February. At a May 14 meeting, several business owners, including Justin West of Broadway Variety, said a ban would unfairly penalize law-abiding members of the community.

The ordinance, brought forward in light of recent vape-related illnesses across the U.S., would have prohibited the sale of some flavored tobacco products, but was postponed after Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett said the proposal lacked clarity and definition.

As of Oct. 16, the Maine CDC reported that several people in Maine have experienced lung illnesses related to the use of e-cigarettes. In total, the state has had five cases — four adults, one youth — amid national alarm about the growing health concerns of using vape products. The state CDC has no information on whether the products that recently caused people to get sick were purchased legally.

While no deaths have been reported in Maine, the U.S. CDC reports that 18 deaths have occurred in 10 states, with more than 1,080 lung injuries thought to have been caused by vaping. The report said that patients being treated report having a history of using e-cigarette products or smoking materials containing THC.

The pre-filled, closed-pod systems under scrutiny include small vapes that use cartridges with a liquid. Common brands include Juul, MyBlue and PHIX. Maine requires consumers to be at least 21 to purchase vaping and tobacco products.

“Banning products became difficult to clarify, so council decided to just go against it,” City Manager Scott Morelli said Oct. 16. “They have decided to enact a buffer around schools, so tobacco products like vaping devices can’t be sold within a certain distance of schools.”

According to Daggett, the language in the rules now makes the intentions clear. Any tobacco retailer that obtained their license as of Sept. 3 will be grandfathered in and will not have to abide by the distance rules. As long as they keep their license up to date for that location, retailers may stay at their present locations, she said.

“These new laws will essentially mirror state law,” Daggett said. “Rather than setting up a separate regulatory scheme that would make life way more complicated than I think we need it to be. This is easier for the city to administer it and the fairest to existing tobacco retailers.”

Businesses such as Portland Smoke and Vape on Broadway, which is across the street and less than 100 feet from Mahoney Middle School, will be grandfathered in, although it was the catalyst for the ordinance, Councilor Sue Henderson said at the Oct. 29 meeting.

In total, 36 tobacco retailers were given a 30-day notice regarding the proposed ordinance. Out of the 36 shops, four are closer than 1,000 feet to schools and three are closer than 300 feet to sensitive-use locations. These shops include Shaw’s Supermarket, Dollar General, Pizza Joint, Debs Sandwich Shop and Big Apple.

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