BOUNTIFUL — Less than a week after several Bountiful e-cigarette shop owners were told they had to close by the end of the year, city officials are giving them more time to relocate.
Brad Parsons, owner of Vapor Loc, and three other e-cigarette stores in the city were notified on Dec. 26 that their business licenses would expire on Dec. 31 due to state zoning violations that prohibit e-cigarettes from being sold in close proximity to homes, schools or churches.
On Monday, the business owners were told they could stay in business until the end of 2014.
"We have had input from the businesses,” Bountiful City Manager Gary Hill said. “They have contacted us, and as we have discussed it, we have felt like it was a reasonable thing to try to come with some middle ground.”
Parsons, who was furious when he was told he had a few days to close his business, said he believes the new agreement is a move in the right direction.
“Another year is great, but we have a five-year lease," he said. "So it’s a start. It’s definitely a start.”
Aaron Frazier, director of the consumer advocacy group Utah Vapers, said Monday’s announcement provids the shops more time to deal with the situation, but it's not a permanent solution.
“Through the proposal, the city is asking each shop owner to operate illegally without a business license. This places them at great risk with the state tax commission, state (attorney general's) office, along with their insurance provider, and is not a positive outcome overall,” Frazier said. “We are continuing with the legal process and will be appealing the city attorney’s office following the appeal process outlined by the city of Bountiful.”
Parsons said he got a business license from Bountiful in June, paid the fees and had his shop checked by inspectors. But because he is within 600 feet of an apartment complex, his business is breaking state law and his license won’t be renewed. Parsons called the law unfair.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “This is vapor that’s a lot less harmful to your body as regular conventional cigarettes, and I have three gas stations sitting across all corners of me, and they can sell cigarettes.”
The gas stations can also sell e-cigarettes, he said.
Parsons said if the city forced him to close by Jan. 1, he would go broke.
“We have $130,000 into this shop,” he said. “We invested $130,000. That's a lot of money for six months in business."
Bountiful city officials said they are enforcing a state law, not a city ordinance.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, drafted e-cigarette zoning laws that treat the product like tobacco because of the nicotine in both products. However, Ray agress that less than a week's notice to close is too fast.
"I can see the confusion maybe on the city's part when they got an application that said it was a vapor shop," Ray said Friday. "And I agree they need to move. But I would give them time to relocate."
Hill said there was nothing wrong with the businesses other than their locations, “and hopefully the year will give them some time to look at alternatives.”
In Parsons’ case, he hopes to educate and lobby state lawmakers to revise the zoning ordinance so he doesn't find himself in a similar position a year from now.
Contributing: Alex Cabrero