Fayette County

E-cigarette vote leaves Lexington shop owners uncertain of impact on their business

A day after the Urban County Council added electronic cigarettes to its decade-old smoking ban, owners of e-cigarette stores said Friday they aren't sure how the ban will affect business.

Bill Anderson at Precision Vapor on Southland Drive, said business has been growing. Precision Vapor was the first electronic cigarette store in Lexington when it opened two years ago. Now there are at least a half-dozen stores dedicated solely to electronic nicotine-delivery systems in Fayette County.

Anderson said he hasn't heard whether e-cigarette stores are exempt under the ban that prohibits smoking in workplaces that are open to the public. But if tobacco stores are exempt, electronic cigarette stores should be as well, he said.

"Sampling should still be allowed," Anderson said.

The Urban County Council voted unanimously Thursday to add electronic cigarettes to the indoor smoking ban. Lexington and Fayette County became the eighth community in Kentucky to ban the alternative-nicotine delivery system.

Those who backed the e-cigarette ban said it's not clear what's in electronic cigarettes. The products are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration. Many e-cigarettes look like traditional cigarettes, making it difficult to enforce current smoking bans.

Proponents of e-cigarettes say they help people kick a habit that costs the public millions of dollars in health-care related costs. Forcing those people outside — with traditional smokers — could make them return to their former habit.

Tony Florence, who has been a vocal critic of the ban, said he hopes the e-cigarette ban won't hurt his business, 723 Vapor, which opened in March.

But the ban probably won't help.

"When you lump e-cigarettes with traditional cigarettes, you're attaching a stigma to the product," Florence said. "We don't want to be associated with tobacco products at all."

The Louisville Metro Council decided not to add e-cigarettes to its indoor smoking ban until there were more concrete studies showing whether e-cigarettes are harmful, Florence said.

Lexington should have waited, he said.

"We hear success stories nearly every day," Florence said of people who quit smoking cigarettes by switching to electronic cigarettes.

Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, who led the push to add electronic cigarettes to the smoking ban, said electronic cigarette stores are considered tobacco shops and are exempt from the ban. Under the current ordinance, people are allowed to smoke in tobacco retail stores.

"Our intent was not to put anyone out of business," Gorton said.

Fayette County Health Commissioner Dr. Rice Leach said the health department will have to look at the new ordinance to determine which businesses are exempt and which aren't.

The county health department enforces the smoking ban.

"We will do whatever the ordinance says," Leach said. "We are going to enforce based on complaints, which is what we did when the ordinance was enacted 10 years ago."

Gorton said that when council members passed the original smoking ban 10 years ago, they were told by bar and restaurant owners that businesses would close and people would lose jobs.

None of those predications came true, she said.

"People love clean air," Gorton said. "I think we would have a riot on our hands if we tried to take it back."