City: vaping, even the non-nicotine variety, now hands-off for minors

By Brandi Makuski

Being caught in possession of vapor smoking products will now cost teenagers in the city a $50 fine and a possible trip to municipal court.

Officials in Stevens Point on Monday agreed to include vaping products as a prohibited use by minors in city limits, making even nicotine-free options off-limits for anyone under the age of 18.

Also known by terms like “e-cigarettes” or “e-cigars”, vaping is a relatively new technology for introducing tobaccoless nicotine into the body using a battery-powered device, according to City Attorney Andrew Beveridge. Nicotine, and sometimes other flavorings, is added to a water solution, then heated by a small power source, passing through a mouthpiece and inhaled like a cigarette, he said.

“Often, glycerol or propylene glycol is added to the solution to give the appearance of smoke when the solution is vaporized,” Beveridge said on Monday.

But some varieties offer non-nicotine products, he said, leaving a loophole not covered under existing city ordinances prohibiting the sale of nicotine products to children, or for minors to possess nicotine products.

The issue is more concentrated inside local schools, according to Police Chief Martin Skibba, who said while nicotine is already prohibited on school property under state law, police liaison officers have no mechanism by which to address vaping products until now.

“They’re hearing students say the products don’t contain nicotine and are therefore not prohibited,” Skibba said. “And at this time there’s no way to field test an item like that to determine whether it has nicotine or not, and quite frankly, that would really be a waste of officers’ time.”

Stevens Point police issued 10 citations in 2017 for underage smoking, according to the department’s annual report. Skibba did not immediately know how many instances involved vaping products, or how many were discounted because they did not contain nicotine.

In his ordinance language, Beveridge cited findings from the Federal Drug Administration concluding that vaping products include formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, lead, nickel, and chromium, which are associated with a range of negative health effects.

The first offense for possession of vaping products will result in a citation of $50, Skibba said. A second offense means a $75 fine, and either can include a mandatory appearance in municipal court.

The new ordinance will become formal at the 7 p.m. city council meeting on Dec. 17, which is held on the second floor of the Portage Co. Courthouse.