February 25, 2016
By Kristin Noll-Marsh
West Allis, WI — Last week, news came through social media that West Allis was considering two ordinances regarding vape shops and vaping. At first, both proposed ordinances seemed relatively benign. One required vape shops to carry a license at the cost of $100 per annum. The other appeared to only prohibit the use of vapor products on West Allis school grounds. However, after the language was reviewed by WSAC, it was determined that the latter actually banned vaping in all places smoking is currently prohibited by state law, including school grounds and vape shops. This was accomplished by adding language to the existing ordinance that redefined “smoking” to include the use of all vapor products. WSAC also discovered that the February 23rd West Allis Licensing & Health Committee meeting was receiving a presentation by Sue Marten, the Coalition Coordinator for Tobacco-Free Suburban Milwaukee & Ozaukee Counties and the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.
Jim Cottrill, owner of Vape 108 in West Allis, was preparing for a 10-day trip to warmer weather when he heard the news. “I dropped everything,” said Mr. Cottrill. Instead, he got online and on the phone to discover when the meeting was and whether or not the Committee would be allowing public comments. Then he took the information he had gathered to vape groups on Facebook, encouraging other shop owners to attend the meeting and customers to call or write their Aldermen.
After speaking to the Committee Chair, he (and only he) was given permission to address the Committee for just five minutes at the meeting, following Ms. Marten’s presentation. “He clearly stated to me that there would not be any opportunity for us to be involved in any type of debate and that it would be opened at a later meeting,” Cottrill told WSAC. However, he was disappointed when he found himself completely alone at the meeting Tuesday night. “I was severely saddened to see that no other owners felt this important enough to take time out of their busy lives,” he said.
The meeting itself turned out to be more than he expected. “After [Marten] did a Power Point presentation that spoke of all the dangers of vaping, she handed out e-cigarettes that appeared to be cheap devices from gas stations and a Vuse [the electronic cigarette made by RJ Reynolds.] As she handed them out, she warned the Committee to be sure to wash their hands after touching them, because ‘they are extremely toxic’,” said an incredulous Cottrill. At that point, Cottrill reported that everyone at the Committee table was wide-eyed and seemed to be in agreement that something had to be done.
Then came Cottrill’s five minutes.
He spoke from the heart and from his viewpoint as a shop owner. “I told them that I hadn’t experienced anything like [Marten] had said. I’ve had so many customers who have quit smoking because of vaping and thank me.”
Cottrill also pointed out that prohibiting vaping in vape shops, which is what he sells, would be like prohibiting drinking in a tavern. He told them that vape shops need to allow vaping and the shops in West Allis would be forced to move outside of the city, taking their business and customers with them.
At that point, Cottrill’s five minutes were up, but to his surprise, the Committee members started asking him questions. “After that, only one Committee member still supported the ordinances, but only if vape shops were exempted from the indoor ban. The others stated that they were not convinced by the studies that she had given them and said that businesses should be able to decide whether or not to allow vaping in their establishment, not the government. One even said he didn’t want to make it harder for smokers to quit. Then they put both ordinances on hold until the other six Aldermen can see the data.”
While this may only be a temporary stay, Cottrill is convinced that it would have moved forward that night, had he not been there to speak up. “The way they were acting after her presentation, they looked convinced [that the measures were reasonable] until I talked to them,” he said.
As far as we’re concerned. by stepping up and showing that one voice can make a difference, Mr. Cottrill deserves the gratitude of the vaping community in West Allis. Hopefully, other vape shop owners and their customers will follow his example in the future.
WSAC will continue to monitor the situation in West Allis and issue a Call to Action alert should these ordinances be placed on a future agenda.