Lawmakers want vape shop buffer zone for Montgomery County schools

There are 22 vape shops in Montgomery County and 19 of them are within a half mile of a Montgomery County middle school or high school.

Under a proposed new law, lawmakers say those 19 shops would have to close or relocate within 24 months.

The proposal has the support of the majority of the county council as well as the county executive.

Council members say they are deeply concerned with an increasing epidemic of e-cigarette use by young people in the county and they are looking for as many ways as possible to keep the products out of their hands.

Pranav Tadikonda, the President of the Student Government Association, says vaping is an on-going problem inside county schools.

"Sometimes when I enter the bathroom in the middle of class I see students--groups of guys just huddled around the mirror you know --passing around a Juul pod or passing around e-cigarettes during class times and it's come to the point where many of these students are addicted and find a need to really smoke especially because they have addictive chemicals in them," Tadikonda said.

A second law proposed by county lawmakers would ban the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping products at retail establishments -- like 7-Eleven -- if they are located within that half a mile buffer zone.

In an effort to support their plan to change the law, council members pointed to a statistic from the Centers for Disease Control showing that in the last seven years the use of e-cigarettes among high school students has increased significantly.

The CDC also says that nearly one of every five high school students reported in 2018 that they used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

Council members say it's an increasing epidemic and they want to protect the health of young people in the county.

"We know that early exposure to nicotine can increase the likelihood of using other substances such as alcohol and illicit drugs", said Dr. Travis Gayles, the County's Chief Health Officer. "We also know early exposure to nicotine can increase a young persons symptoms of withdrawal and dependence on nicotine thereby smoking more."

The Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed bill at a later date.

In a statement, Greg Conley with the American Vaping Association said, in part:

"We are supportive of measures to keep all nicotine and tobacco products away from schools and not just nicotine vaping products. These are adult products and creating a reasonable buffer area around schools will not reduce adult access to these harm reduction products."

There have been 15 reported vaping illnesses in the state in recent weeks with one documented case in Montgomery County.