Madison’s Plan Commission narrowly approved a zoning change Monday evening that would restrict new tobacco shops and vape shops to a few small sections of the city.
The zoning text amendment, proposed by Mayor Paul Soglin, redefines tobacco retailers and includes stores selling e-cigarette and vaporizer products. It also adds limitations to where those stores can be located, restricting tobacco retailers from opening within 500 feet of any establishment selling tobacco or within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers, health facilities, parks, libraries and youth centers.
“While Madison has been on the forefront of regulating where people can smoke (e.g., indoor smoking ban), the city’s zoning code has never adequately addressed or defined the sale of tobacco,” Soglin wrote in a letter to the Plan Commission.
The measure passed 4-3 and will go before City Council for final approval.
While existing stores would be able to continue to operate under the ordinance, the resulting map leaves few possible areas for new tobacco or e-cigarette retailers to set up shop. The possible areas fall on the far east and far west sides, largely around East Towne and West Towne malls, with other spots sitting on land that can't be developed.
Members of the vaping community are concerned that this zoning change will allow e-cigarettes from major tobacco companies — those sold in convenience stores and gas stations — to expand more broadly while locally-owned vape shops are restricted.
Puff Vapor owner Rick Gunderman opposed the ordinance at a public hearing on the issue in March, saying his shop already checks IDs so it doesn't make sense to restrict location near schools or playgrounds.
"Running a small business is challenging under the best of circumstances," Gunderman said. "We don’t know if our rent will be raised to the point where we’ll have to move, we haven’t decided if perhaps we’d like to open a second store. We may not be able to do that under these regulations.”
Some vape shop owners also took issue with the classification of tobacco and vaping as the same type of retailer, saying it doesn't make sense to restrict their proximity to one another when their clients are different.
Soglin argued in his letter to the Plan Commission that since the city already added e-cigarettes and vaping to its indoor smoking ban, it should treat them the same under this ordinance.
"While I am sympathetic to those challenged by tobacco addiction, given the finding of the Common Council, the early studies on the effects of vaping, the position of the CDC and the UW-CTRI relative to the possible harmful effects of vaping, and the well known and obvious health effects of traditional tobacco, I believe vaping should be regulated just like tobacco, unless and until it is proven not to pose health dangers to the public," Soglin wrote in his letter to the commission.