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Portage Common Council disagrees on ordinance reinforcing school vaping products policy
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Portage Common Council disagrees on ordinance reinforcing school vaping products policy

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A city ordinance meant to create more prohibitions on the use and possession of electronic smoking devices was met with concerns by Portage Common Council members Thursday.

Council member Mark Hahn was most bothered by what he referred to as targeting specific individuals, noting that the word “possession” only applied to school grounds.

“It is targeting the ability of the school to be able to punish people by ordinance on a policy they want,” Hahn said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. It targets, basically, people who can have possession of it.”

Ordinance 20-02 adopts state statutes, but also expands limitations on those who own vaping products. Instead of the use of tobacco products being prohibited in city-owned buildings and on public grounds as well as school property, even legal possessors could not have pieces meant to assemble the electronic devices. Or even charge them, fellow council member Eric Shimpach noted during the meeting.

“For me, I’m thinking of staff, parents coming in for parent-teacher conferences, a contractor coming in to fix something that the school hired them to do, and they just happen to have something locked in their car,” Shimpach said. “... I’m just not seeing the connection of just mere possession as somehow inherently in violation of public health.”

As a member of the Legislative and Regulatory Committee, Shimpach said he voiced concerns about the language in earlier meetings before it was recommended to the full council.

The ordinance defines electronic smoking device paraphernalia as “cartridges, cartomizers, e-liquid, smoke juice, tips, atomizers, electronic smoking device batteries and chargers and any other item specifically designed for the preparation, charging or use of electronic smoking devices.”

City Administrator Shawn Murphy said the intent of the ordinance was to expand limitations as a way to address possession by students or users with products that don’t have nicotine in them, but possibly another substance. He related it to discussions about the possession of alcohol in city parks; adults who legally own the substance will likely not have an issue unless they “flagrantly” violate the purpose of the violation by using it in public. The same could be argued for concealed weapons, he said, where the main intent of the law is to dissuade people from bringing prohibited items onto public property.

Hahn said parents who park on school property to watch a sports event would be in violation of city law, even if it isn’t necessarily enforced if no use occurs. He did not see the reasoning behind adopting the language of possession if it was unlikely to be enforced when “use” is what has been adopted in non-electronic smoking laws in the past.

“I understand the intent of it, but I’ve never liked that,” Hahn said. “That we’re only going to do it against these people, but not against these people.”

City Attorney Jesse Spankowski said the language of the ordinance expanded beyond the initial problem by trying to aid school resources officers who may be powerless when they find a device but the school does not send it out for testing of any substance found within it. The key function of the law is to expand the description to products other than nicotine, he said, echoing Murphy.

Hahn called for an amendment to the ordinance that would remove the word “possession.” It was especially glaring that possession would only have been regulated on school grounds while language in the ordinance only referred to prohibition of use on city property.

The amendment passed 8-1. Mike Charles, chairman of the Legislative Committee, was the single no vote.

Murphy said part of the reason behind the language was due to the ease of concealing electronic smoking devices. They can be used subtly and put away quickly, unlike physical cigarettes, he noted.

Jeff Montfort, who also serves on the committee, told fellow council members he felt the changes were “reasonable,” but emphasized that committee members took measured consideration in recommending the original ordinance.

The ordinance also prohibits stores that sell vaping products from setting out self-service displays that would be in any way accessible by the public, including vending machines.

With the amendment to remove the word “possession,” the ordinance was passed unanimously.

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.

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