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State, federal rules on vaping needed

Given the uncertain dangers surrounding the use of e-cigarettes, it was not surprising that Brookhaven aldermen voted to put a temporary stop on new “vape” stores.

The board passed a moratorium that began Tuesday at midnight to prevent any more shops to open that sell or promote the use of vaping products and services.

“Over the past few weeks, based upon investigation, concern has elevated due to a number of deaths attributed to the use of vaping,” city attorney Joe Fernald wrote in the moratorium. “Said deaths have initiated investigation by federal and state agencies concerning vaping, and substances employed in vaping. Further, based upon information, the practice of vaping is unregulated.”

The 180-day moratorium “on the establishment of an institution, business or shop that sells vaping substance, vaping paraphernalia or allows consumption of vaping substance in their establishment as part of their sales” can be extended for 90 days with a majority vote by the board.

Mississippi reported its first vaping-related death last month, in addition to four cases of lung injury related to vaping. Nationwide, as many as 1,000 cases have been reported.

Alderwoman-at-Large Karen Sullivan suggested the moratorium at the Sept. 17 meeting of the board and made the motion to approve it Tuesday night.

“I think it’s our job to look out for the safety, health and welfare of our citizens,” Sullivan said.

The board is not wrong to put a hold on vape stores until state and federal health agencies review what appears to be a growing health concern. But picking and choosing which businesses can operate is a tricky balancing act for governments.

Board members must consider the safety and welfare of residents — and also consider the freedoms that entrepreneurs should enjoy.

If the issue is only health and safety, one could easily argue that stores that sell traditional cigarettes should attract the city’s regulatory attention. The science is clear on the dangers of cigarettes.

If the issue is also that vaping devices are largely unregulated, then a moratorium makes good sense.

Hopefully, state and federal officials will issue clear guidelines in the coming weeks. Doing so will make decisions made by Brookhaven’s leaders — and those nationwide — much simpler.