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  • Kevin Elliott

Rochester proposes restrictions on smoking

Smoke shops and vaping outlets will be prohibited along Main Street and University Drive, as well as several other locations in downtown Rochester under ordinance revisions approved by the city on Monday, April 9, to curb underage uses and exposure to tobacco and tobacco related products.

The measures stem from discussions in 2017 about efforts to stub out underage use of e-cigarettes and vaping following a presentation to Rochester City Council members by Rochester Police Department School Liaison Officer Amy Drehmer about the popularity of the items among high school students. Those discussions resulted in increased penalties in May of 2017 for underage use of e-cigarettes and vaping products, as a moratorium on retail sales and land uses involving vaping products in multiple tenant commercial buildings. The moratorium was extended in November of 2017 as the city's planning commission explored ordinance revisions to address the issue.

Rochester City Attorney Jeffrey Kragt said on February 26 that planning commissioners approved sending two ordinance amendments to city council for consideration. Those proposals, he said, addressed general smoking regulations in the city, as well as policy considerations regulating businesses whose main purpose is the sale of smoking products, including tobacco, oils, vaping products, smoking equipment and related products.

"The discussion on vaping uses expanded to include other smoking regulations," he said.

Rochester City Council on Monday, April 9, unanimously approved the second and final reading of the ordinances.

In regard to the city's general smoking regulations, planning commissioners set a prohibition against smoking any substance within multiple tenant commercial, retail and industrial buildings. The proposal would also prohibit smoking or vaping use by employees and patrons within 25 feet of any entrance, open windows or exterior ventilation systems. Further, businesses would be responsible for removing all smoking related refuse on the property, including from all entryways and other areas open to the public.

The ordinance would add a new section to the city's code of ordinances that would build on the state's Smoke-Free Law of 2010. Specifically, the ordinance states, "At the time of the enactment of the Smoke-Free Law, other types of smoking, such as hookah, vaping and e-cigarettes, were either not in existence, or were in their infancy, or simply not prevalent. ... city council has been presented with significant evidence and concern from its police department of the wide use and abuse of such methods of smoking by younger individuals. Such use often involves not always knowing what products, chemicals and substances are being ingested. Having a significant distance between schools and establishments that sell smoking products and equipment is desirable in an effort to reduce the access of such products to underage persons."

To that purpose, the ordinance will prohibit businesses whose principal use is the sale of such products from locating in a building that fronts or has an address on University Drive or Main Street; or is within 500 feet of a school; Elizabeth Park; Halbach Field; Howlett Park; Municipal Park; Scott Street Park; the Rochester Hills Public Library; or the Rochester Avon Recreation Authority (RARA).

Additionally, the ordinance will prohibit businesses whose principal use is selling smoking products or equipment from permitting persons under 18 years of age to enter without a parent or guardian.

Smoking products include, but aren't limited to, tobacco, nicotine substances, hookahs, oils, vapor products, smoking herbs, electronic cigarettes, hookah pipes, vapor cartridges, bongs, rolling papers and other products.

Kragt said the proposal allows the city's planning commission to determine what a business's principal use is, based on several factors, including whether the items are the main products being offered for sale, the ratio of likely sales compared to other products, how the products are advertised or offered for sale and other information.

City councilwoman Ann Peterson questioned whether the ordinance's reference to the required distance from a building to smoke would apply to pedestrians who happen to be walking past a business, which an owner wouldn't be able to regulate. Kragt said the ordinance wouldn't pertain to those pedestrians.

Peterson also asked how the 25-foot rule would be determined and enforced. Kragt said code enforcement officers and police officers could enforce the rule, but in general, the city is simply looking for compliance, if the proposed ordinance were approved.

"They don't immediately issue a ticket," he said. "They work to make them more aware of the issue and take care of it. If this passes, I'm sure the DDA and PSD would make it well known."

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