On Monday, February 19th, the West Windsor Township Council meeting will host a public hearing on an ordinance to control and limit access to vaping devices. This ordinance, developed by Health Officer Jill Swanson and former Councilwoman Jyotika Bahree, establishes licensing requirements for any stores selling electronic smoking devices, sets fines for selling to minors, and prohibits establishments defined as vape shops.
Vaping is known as the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, or vapor, produced by electronic cigarettes. The e-cigarette industry had largely begun to provide those addicted to smoking with a healthier alternative. However, this market has recently dramatically changed to become the forefront of tobacco products, targeting youth to become long-term consumers.
This market is led by companies such as Juul, providing a more stylish and flavorful smoking experience, which has successfully attracted mass youth consumption. In fact, according to a 2018 report associated with the National Institute of Health, the use of vaping nicotine amongst high schoolers nearly doubled.
Moreover, due to the recent rise of this industry, there are few studies that display long-term negative effects to youth regarding how vaping affects brain development. However, a recent study from Yale Medicine strongly indicates that vaping can affect critical functions such as memory and attention processing, not to mention the harmful effects of the addiction itself. “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,” Officer Jill Swanson said.
When she first heard of these reports and side-effects, Councilwoman Bahree became quite concerned. “I was a liason for the school board from the council, and in one of the meetings, Dr. Aderhold discussed vaping in schools, and that he would appreciate the Township’s help with this issue. So, I decided to take ownership of the issue and figure out what’s going on,” she said.
After doing her research, discussing with Dr. Aderhold and township parents, and attending presentations on vaping in nearby townships, Bahree reached out to Swanson to see what could be done to deal with vaping in the township. More of her personal insights can be read in this letter.
From there, Swanson also explored what had already been done to combat this issue, and what can be done moving forward. “New Jersey’s ‘Smoke Free Air Act’ defines electronic cigarettes as part of smoking. Based on other regulations, the age restriction for e-cigarettes is 21,” Swanson said. However, since these regulations did not deal with the recent rise in vaping, many townships nearby -- including Princeton, Montgomery, and South Brunswick -- have already adopted ordinances to limit the use of vaping, particularly amongst youth.
Moving forward, Swanson worked with the 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.”
The Council defines vape shops as “a retailer that either devotes 25% or more of their floor or display area to, or derives 75% or more of their gross sales receipts from, the sale of electronic smoking devices and/or related products.” This 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 does place regulations on five establishments that do sell vaping products. Firstly, these shops must obtain a license to sell these products for $1,500. Once they obtain that license, the stores must train their employees to be aware of the regulations and document that training. The stores must also display a 6x8 inch sign reminding customers that the age minimum to buy these products is 21, and will be fined successive amounts for each violations. Any funds accrued from fines and license fees will be used towards education and training on the effects of vaping.
As Swanson explained, this ordinance 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 notes that while it is difficult for the council to monitor online purchases, the larger signage and enforcement measures will better curb sales. “Moreover, this will also help kids be informed. 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 suggested that schools and the township can utilize social media to connect with youth and better display the harmful effects of vaping.
While the Council has done it’s due diligence, there are divided opinions in the public on the ordinance, especially amongst students. According to South alumni and Temple University freshman Viraj Shah, the ordinance is redundant to state measures, and generally ineffective.
He discusses how these additional regulations hurt small 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 pay off their, and government regulation makes it even harder,” Shah said.
Moreover, Shah mentions that the ordinance would not be effective. “Signage is not going to stop a teen from vaping if they want to.”
Instead, he believes that schools should focus on better education about the harmful effects of the various types of vaping products. “I just don’t believe they’re doing it the right way. In a presentation to parents earlier, the school mentioned that Juul can cause popcorn lung, but the chemicals that cause it are present in other vaping devices, not Juul. This makes students not trust what the school is saying,” Shah said.
Meanwhile, current South senior Naman Sarda believe that this ordinance can be a good, though imperfect, start to dealing with the issue of vaping. “I think what’s listed in the ordinance is really fair as to the punishments laid out and the ability to get a license. I don’t think it’s too prohibitive, but it seems like a fair measure.”
He believes 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.”
At the meeting on February 19th, the Council will be taking public comments on this ordinance, which has already been introduced through the Board of Health. If the Council decides to vote at that meeting, and it is adopted, then the ordinance will go into effect.
Council President Alison Miller stressed the importance of countering vaping and another rise in tobacco products. As Miller notes, the original intention of vaping was to help adults stop smoking. “However, far more people are now starting with vaping, and because of the nicotine, it can be really harmful.”
For those who are looking to get support for themselves or a loved one, please visit smokefree.gov or teen.smokefree.gov, or contact the NJ Quit Line at (1-866-NJSTOPS).
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