LIVINGSTON, NJ — Concern about the increased use of electronic cigarettes and other vapor products were among the reasons why the Livingston Township Council adopted an ordinance prohibiting “vape shops,” or any establishment that primarily sells “electronic devices, liquid nicotine or vapor products,” in the township’s retail commercial zones. In the absence of Councilman Shawn Klein, the remaining four council members voted 3-1 in favor of this ordinance on Monday after hearing final comments and questions from the public.
Following the public hearing, where there were several questions asked but no objections from those who spoke, Councilman Michael Silverman was the only council member to vote against the ordinance despite being personally against the product in question.
“I am not in favor of any store that sells any product that may be hazardous to anyone’s health — adult or child,” said Silverman, adding that he has given this ordinance a great deal of thought. “I am not in favor of any liquid electronic smoking device store in our township, but that is Michael Silverman as an individual. As an elected councilman, I have been struggling with government’s involvement in fair, legal and legitimate trade in our township.”
Silverman compared the ordinance to a similar one passed 16 years ago prohibiting tattoo businesses within the township. He said that back then, “the image of a tattoo parlor was seedy and negative,” but that today many people have tattoos, and that this is a similar scenario.
He also noted that businesses throughout town have been selling e-cigarettes and other forms of these devices for many years because it is a legal activity for those of age. He said that banning these establishments would be similar to prohibiting liquor stores, which also sell legal products to those of age, or stopping convenience stores from selling cigarettes. Similarly to liquor stores, if a “vape shop” was to open in Livingston, the laws prohibiting the underage purchase or sale of the products would still apply, he said.
“Is it this council’s job to prohibit the real estate owners in our township from renting space to viable, legal businesses?” said Silverman. “I am 100 percent in agreement that this body has the power and right and at times obligation to prohibit certain business, but I am not sure this is one of them. I reiterate that I am not in favor of vaping, I am not in favor of underage smoking or drinking, but today I am not 100-percent sure that this body should prohibit legally run, clean, law-abiding businesses from town.”
Several residents spoke in favor of the ordinance, specifically reiterating the health and environmental aspects that they said need to be taken into account.
Sasha Pailet Koff said she realizes that this is a difficult topic for the governing body to consider, but noted that as a town that is home to one of the best medical centers in the Tri-State Area, a town known for its “lack of fast food joints,” a town whose health department provides free screenings and vaccines, and a town that promotes a healthy lifestyle by offering many mind-body activities at its community center, library and more, Livingston is “not such a place for a vape shop.”
“Given the mounting evidence of health effects attributed to the largely unregulated product of vaping — to those who use as well as those who are mere bystanders — the presence of a store whose sole purpose is to sell such a product in the center of town is not in harmony with the healthy lifestyle our community aspires to hold,” she said. “So while I am generally supportive of free trade and the sale of all legal products in a legal manner, I do believe there are spaces and places that are right for all products to be sold. The center of our town, in my opinion, is not such a place for a vape shop.”
Within the ordinance, an electronic cigarette is defined as “a handheld electronic device that simulates the feeling of tobacco smoking” and works by “heating a liquid to generate an aerosol, commonly called a ‘vapor,’ that the user inhales.” The adopted ordinance also prohibits “any commercial establishment engaged in the retail or wholesale sale of any drug paraphernalia.”
The township distributed an official notice of the public hearing and a copy of the proposed ordinance to any property owners with properties located within 200 feet of the commercial zones that will be affected by this ordinance. Two of those residents questioned whether the ordinance prohibits the sale of these products in stores that already sell them, such as 7-Eleven or local gas stations, to which Township Attorney Sharon Weiner reiterated that this would not be the case.
She pointed out that the ordinance clearly emphasizes the phrase “principal business” when describing the type of retail establishment that it prohibits. The ordinance specifically states that it prohibits “any commercial establishment which has as its principal business the retail sale and/or service of” any of the aforementioned products.
In response to related questions regarding a shop that was to be called “Good Guy Vapes” on Mt. Pleasant Avenue, Weiner explained that the reason this establishment’s application did not go through was not due to the nature of the business, but because of a zoning issue related to parking.
“[The sale of vapor products] is legal in the state, so if 7-Eleven or a drug store wants to sell them, we’re not prohibiting that,” said Weiner. “[Good Guy Vapes] was in a particular location where there was no parking provided for the store no matter what the use, so we could not permit a store to open without parking.”
Mayor Ed Meinhardt, Deputy Mayor Al Anthony and Councilman Rudy Fernandez voted in favor of the ordinance. Meinhardt thanked Silverman for his comments, stating that the fact that elected officials in communities like Livingston are entitled to their own opinions and votes is “the best part about living in this country.”
“Everyone has their opinions — and I respect it, and I listen, and I appreciate what [Silverman] had to say — but I don’t always have to agree, and that’s the best part,” said Meinhardt. “I think that Livingston does not deserve a vape shop, so I vote yes.”
Despite being absent from Monday’s meeting, Councilman Shawn Klein had previously stated that “there are a lot of studies that show medically that people who vape are much more likely to smoke cigarettes,” and that it was important for the township to consider this step.
“Vaping really is an important health hazard,” he said when the ordinance was introduced.
Click HERE to read more about this ordinance from a previous meeting.