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Health officials and vape shop owners prep for legal fight over emergency ban

The Utah State Board of Education discussed the youth vaping problem at their monthly meeting. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY – Even though the courtroom battle has been pushed back, the legal fight between the Utah Department of Health and certain vape shop owners is far from over.  Both sides are prepping for a hearing that could ban some shops from selling flavored products.

The hearing will determine if the Utah Department of Health can ban the sale of flavored pods, unless a shop has a specialty license to sell them.  A judge granted a restraining order that prevents the state from enacting their emergency ban last Monday.  The evidentiary hearing was originally set for this Thursday and Friday, but, that would have been a very tight turnaround for state health officials.

“Given [there was a] decision on Monday morning, we were not prepared for a two-day hearing on Thursday and Friday.  So, we needed a little bit more time to come up with to come up with not only what our strategy is going to be, but, also what our arguments need to be,” according to UDOH Spokesman Tom Hudachko.

He says they haven’t figured out their approach about the emergency ban, however, the state has another possible ban on the horizon.  Hudachko says they’re working on a more permanent rule that would essentially do what the emergency ban would.  Enacting it, however, would be a much longer process.

Hudachko says, “It requires going out and working with stakeholders, receiving public input and addressing that public input.  That’s a process that we had always intended to undertake and it’s something we have started.”

Health officials say they’re not looking at how other states like Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington and New York are handling similar proposed bans.  However, those other cases are still a huge concern for VIP Vapors owner Juan Bravo.  He says there is a chance a judge in another state could set a precedent that could expand into Utah.

Why can’t Bravo just get the specialty license that would allow him to sell flavored products?  He says state regulations make it nearly impossible to get that kind of license in certain places.

Bravo says, “There are entire cities in which you cannot find a locale that zones to get a specialty license.”

He believes if the state wants to keep vaping products out of the hands of minors, it’s better if the two sides work together.  Teens have been trying to illegally buy products from his store for a long time, and he has seen all the tricks.  For instance, he can spot a strawman purchase from a mile away.

“When we have somebody coming in and they’re on the phone with somebody, clearly they’re not buying for themselves.  We turn them down,” Bravo says.

Bravo met with state health officials this week, suggesting ways to help keep these items away from kids.

“We’re trying to work with them on sensible legislation like making ID scanners mandatory, increasing penalties on retailers found guilty of selling to a minor and increasing the sting frequency,” he says.