ORANGE PARK, Fla. - The town council in Orange Park was set to vote on an ordinance Tuesday night that would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine to people under 18. However, that vote will now be put off until Nov. 5.
Smokeless, electronic cigarettes continue to ignite a firestorm of debate in Orange Park, as the town council amended the proposed ordinance that could classify e-cigarettes as regular cigarettes.
The change came after more than an hour back-and-forth over the risks, benefits, and legal ramification of using e-cigarettes in the community.
The city council made a unanimous decision Tuesday night to amend the fine portion of the controversial Electronic Cigarette Ordinance in Orange Park.
The proposed ordinance, fines individuals for their first and second offenses and on a third offense, an individual would be charged with a misdemeanor. The council decided that wasn't fair Tuesday night and changed the language in the proposed ordinance to remove that misdemeanor charge.
"That's definitely a step in the right direction, but our argument is that vapors should not be subject to the fines and that should be at the discretion of the business owner," said New Leaf Vapor Company owner, Benjamin Hughlett.
Hughlett owns two Jacksonville based e-cigarette stores and was prepared to argue against portions of Orange Park's proposed ordinance. Hughlett doesn't think e-cigarettes should be prohibited in places where smoking is banned.
"We were looking forward to making a good argument this evening and we were unable to do so," said Hughlett.
Clay County was the first county in the state of Florida to pass restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes, but Orange Park was not included.
The vice mayor of Orange Park drafted a similar proposal for the town. She said the issue is a personal one.
"My father died of lung cancer so I understand the addiction of nicotine. I just think it's the wrong thing for our children and we've come so far in reducing cigarette smoking among teens," said Marge Hutton.
The proposed ordinance would also ban people from using e-cigarettes in places where traditional smoking is already banned, like restaurants and movie theaters. It would also require stores to sell them from behind a counter. Violators could face a $500 fine or 60 days in jail.
Hutton said they are just too easy to access.
"When you go to the different stores that are providing these, they're right down in front along with the candy and the gum. Anybody can buy them," she said.
The ordinance has received some negative feedback. But, according to Hutton, it's mostly from people who don't live in Orange Park.
Members of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives, a national organization, have been emailing council members, voicing their oppositions. Only one person at the last public hearing actually lived in the area.
Hutton said her duty is to serve the people who live in the area.
"I think I have to be that voice for the town of Orange Park. I think [if] 20 years from now, you can prove to me that there's no harm than good, but until then don't make us your experiment," Hutton said.
A final vote on the ordinance is expected at the next town council meeting in Orange Park, scheduled for Nov. 5.
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