EP City Council bans electronic cigarettes, may consider vape shops exempt

Scott Hilyard GateHouse Media Illinois
Ron Osborn of Phoenix, a vape shop at 100 E. Washington St., in East Peoria uses an e-cigarette at his shop on July 20.

EAST PEORIA — City officials will review whether to specifically exempt electronic cigarette shops and stores from an ordinance banning the use of the cigarettes in public places. The ordinance that was approved by the City Council on July 19 is unclear on the topic of an exemption for e-cigarette shops, or vape shops as they are known, and additional language might be necessary, according to City Attorney Scott Brunton.

“This ordinance was not intended to prohibit vape shops and stores in the city of East Peoria,” Brunton said July 20. “The Illinois Smoke Free Act does provide certain exceptions where smoking is allowed, which would appear to include vape shops and stores. However, the definitions used in the Illinois Smoke Free Act are not as clear as they could be. Upon reviewing this situation with city officials, we will determine whether to add additional language to the exception portion of this ordinance to clearly exclude vape shops from the reach of this ordinance.”

One thing is abundantly clear: Without an exemption, East Peoria’s three vape shops are doomed.

“It would be devastating,” said Michelle Frans, co-owner of Breath Vapor, a vape store in Fondulac Plaza. “The whole point of the store is for customers to sample and find the flavor that is right for them to keep them off of tobacco products. Without being able to sample, customers would just go across the river and buy from Peoria stores. Absolutely.”

The council and Mayor Dave Mingus said the ban was based on citizen complaints and public health concerns about secondhand vapors.

Technically, a vape store meets the criteria of a “public place” and would be required to comply with the e-cigarette ban. However, the Illinois Smoke Free Act, which details where tobacco smoking is and isn’t allowed, includes some exceptions, including smoking tobacco products inside smoke shops that meet certain criteria. Electronic cigarettes are not part of the Illinois Smoke Free Act.

Ron Osborn, the owner of Phoenix, a vape store at 100 E. Washington St., said he supports the ban on city property, but believes owners of restaurants, bars and stores should be able to decide for themselves whether to allow vaping. A local government ban on vaping inside a vape store goes too far and would ruin his East Peoria business, he said.

“It’s an overreach,” Osborn said July 20. “I don’t know how it can be enforced. There are bars in East Peoria that are known for allowing cigarette smoking. I hate to say I’d ignore (the ban), but I’d keep going until they made me stop.”

Osborn, who owns four other stores in Peoria, Washington, Morton and Bloomington, said closing his East Peoria store would mean he would have to lay off “two really good employees.”

David Anderson, the manager of Vaporized Tobacco Accessories vape shop on Camp Street, said sampling the products is vital to the business.

“You can’t just grab something and take it home and hope it works,” he said. “You have to be able to sample.”

Frans, too, thought the council’s action was “overkill.” She thought the decision to allow vaping should be up to individual business owners, not local government. She said the vaping industry also is awaiting action from the U.S. Food and Drug Agency that would put electronic cigarettes in the same category as tobacco products.

“When I got wind (of the ban), I was sickened by it. But we’re not going to roll over and play dead. Hopefully we can work out a compromise,” she said. “Here we have our hands full right now with the FDA and then comes the ban from our own home town. It’s like we have to put up our dukes to everybody — but why?”