Rochester could tighten smoking, vaping regulations

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published March 6, 2018

ROCHESTER — Smoking near entryways, windows and ventilation systems could soon be prohibited in downtown Rochester, if the Rochester City Council approves a new set of smoking regulations recently approved by the Planning Commission.

Last May, police liaison officer Amy Drehmer told city officials that e-cigarette, also known as vaporizer, usage among teens in the local schools was dramatically increasing. The presentation prompted officials to increase the penalties for underage e-cigarette use, and later enact a temporary moratorium on retail sales and land uses involving on-site use of vaping products in multiple-tenant commercial buildings.

Since then, City Attorney Jeff Kragt said, the Planning Commission expanded its discussion on vaping uses to include various other smoking products and considered regulations and multiple draft ordinances to address various issues, which he presented to council Feb. 26.

The first category of proposed ordinances, he said, involves general smoking regulations — including the smoking of any substance within multiple-tenant, retail or industrial buildings.

Council was asked to consider a proposed ordinance that would prohibit employees and patrons from smoking within 25 feet of an entrance, window or ventilation system in a multiple-tenant, retail or industrial building.

“In that ordinance, there was a concern of, should people be able to smoke outside? How far should they be from buildings? A very common regulation with cities are regulations of how close you can be to an entrance to a building. This ordinance requires 25 feet,” Kragt said.

Councilman Dean Bevacqua noted that the proposed regulation would only apply to employees and patrons of the businesses downtown.

“The wording does say businesses shall prohibit employees and patrons from smoking within 25 feet, so the concept of someone randomly walking down the street smoking and being cited from some reason isn’t likely, in that they might not be a patron of that establishment,” he said.

Another regulation would require businesses to remove all smoking-related refuse located on their property, including all entry ways and other areas open to the public.

“The concern that was raised was, how can we tell businesses they need to pick up trash from the city property? So one of the late additions, to clarify that, was it’s on that businesses property, whether it’s in smoking areas, entranceways and so forth,” Kragt explained.

The second category of regulations, Kragt noted, involves more policy considerations — including how to regulate businesses whose main purpose is the sale of vaping products and equipment, as well as smoking products in general.

“That really garnered the most amount of discussion at Planning Commission, because the rub is that obviously these items are not illegal, and they are sold at grocery stores or gas stations. It is illegal obviously for people under age of 18, so the concern shifted to how do we prevent youth who are underage from getting these,” Kragt said.

The proposed regulation would not allow businesses whose principal use is selling smoking products, equipment and devices to be within 500 feet of areas where youth might be congregating — such as schools, certain parks, the Rochester Hills Public Library and the Rochester Avon Recreation Authority.

Another regulation would prohibit those under the age of 18 from entering a smoking shop, or a similar establishment, without a parent or guardian.

“If they can’t buy the products, why should they be allowed in those establishments without a parent or guardian? Kragt said.

The Planning Commission further recommended that the city prohibit smoking shops and similar retail uses from buildings that either front or have addresses on University Drive or Main Street.

“There was an opinion expressed of, do we really want those type of businesses to have neon lights right in the heart of our downtown?” Kragt said.

Councilwoman Ann Peterson wondered how the proposed regulations would be policed.

“I just want to make sure that with it being put into the ordinance that it makes sense,” she said.

If approved, Kragt said police officers and city staff would keep an eye out for offenders.

“If the city sees a cigarette butt 15 feet from an entrance, they aren’t going to go and immediately write a ticket. That’s not how your Police Department works or your city works. It’s very much a ‘we’re looking for compliance’ situation. They may just say, ‘Hey, you’re starting to collect these here, you gotta take care of this’. ... They don’t immediately issue a ticket; they’ll try to work with the person to make them aware of the issue and then work with them to come into compliance,” said Kragt.

The City Council voted to move the proposed ordinances to a public hearing, which was scheduled at press time for March 26.