2017-11-22 / Front Page

Vapes, ‘Flavors’ Ban May Be Ahead

By James Merolla

The Middletown Town Council is seeking to ban the sale of vapor cigarettes, electronic smoking devices and multi-flavored tobacco products through a town ordinance that had its second public hearing before 35 supporters and protesters on Nov. 20.

The council had planned to ban flavored vapor or electronic cigarettes, small cigars and cigarillos, among other tobacco products, on Nov. 1 after agreeing to the ordinance at a lightly attended May meeting. However, faced with lawsuits from local business owners, the town chose to hold two additional public hearings. Another public hearing will be held in December.

“It passed in May, but two retailers challenged the ordinance ban on both substantive and procedural grounds,” Town Solicitor Peter Regan told Newport This Week. “They took it to Superior Court and the town brought it back to square one because there was a question as to whether it was properly posted.

“The town wanted to repost to focus on the merits of the case,” he said. “After two public hearings, they will decide whether they will adopt it. Assuming they [adopt] it, they plan to go to court and argue the merits of it.”

Regan said Middletown believes it has a strong case, based on a similar ban in Providence that the First Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld.

The Businesses

Numerous business owners spoke at the hearing, arguing against the proposed ban, claiming it will seriously hurt their sales and profit margin.

Abdul Kahn and Mohammad Siddiqui, who are part of the lawsuit against the town, were two of four business owners who spoke against the ban. “Don’t try to ban this product. We are trying to do business. And [we are] doing our best not to sell products to minors,” said Kahn, who has owned his business for nine years.

Alicia Anthony, who owns Splash E-cig & Vapor Emporium in Middletown with her partner, Joshua Anthony, told the council that their products are popular with law enforcement. “A large section of my customer base is the military,” said Anthony, who gives a 10 percent discount to military, police and fire personnel. “That’s a lot of money in their pockets.”

She said that if she could no longer legally sell the product, clients “will go to Fall River,” taking sales taxes out of Middletown.

“If we don’t offer any discounts, all the stores around us would lose business. This is all available online,” she said. “Just banning these flavors around town won’t stop it.”

Tom Barnes, who owns Beach Liquors on First Beach and serves on the Middletown Prevention Coalition, favors the ban.

“We card almost religiously,” he said. “Despite the demand, I have never sold little cigars or flavored products. We give up potentially strong profitable sales for the greater good, that of our kids. I don’t want the path to addiction for my grandchildren or anyone else.”

The Kids

Several students also came forward, saying that their friends are addicted, ignorant of the effects, and that they are fearful that their siblings in middle school will become exposed to the vapor flavors and related products.

Hannah Gibbison, a Middletown High senior, told the council she worked for seven months in a local convenience store, and has seen both sides of the issue. She said fellow students, many of them minors, asked her to illegally sell them the flavors and cigarillos.

“It’s really easy to hide,” she said. “We all know where the places are and they don’t check IDs. Everybody knows where to go, who to ask. I have a younger brother at Gaudet and I want to make sure he’s protected.”

Fellow student Nathaniel Baldwin said “juice pods” were the most common and popular device in schools for nicotine rushes. He said many of his friends show signs of dependence and addiction. The juice pods, which are small and portable, with a vapor that displaces quickly, are “virtually undetectable,” he said.

“Everyone uses it and you can find it everywhere in the high school,” he said.

Jasun Nguyen, a Middletown High athlete, said his friends “like to hide it in their wallet.” When using the vapor devices, they breathe into their hoodies, he said.

Derry Mason, dean of students at St. George’s School, handed the town council plastic bags filled with smoking paraphernalia, flavored e-cigarettes such as crème brulee-flavored nicotine oil, and a device to smoke them through student computers.

“These were confiscated from one single dormitory room,” Mason said. “That is one person’s use.” He said students use pods to mask illegal substances that they smoke through a computer link.

Mason said that many of St. George’s students live in Middletown. “We are trying to educate faculty members. We are losing ground,” he said. “Please consider the ordinance as a way to restrict the sale of these items.”

Nguyen said many of his friends pay for one or two puffs of the pods. “[They] are showing signs of addiction but they aren’t aware of it. “I hope that they get rid of the flavors, so my peers and my little brother in middle school do not get addicted to it.”

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