CHICAGO — Vape shop owners in the city are breathing a sigh of relief after learning that an exemption to a recently-passed city ordinance prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes indoors and in public places will allow their customers to vape inside of shops that sell the devices.
Adults over the age of 18 will be able to try and use products inside vape shops as long as the owners get a tobacco retailer license and put their products with nicotine in display cases that are not self-serve, said Brian Richardson, Director of Public Affairs and Community Engagement for the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Additionally, the shops must not be located within 500 feet of a school if they sell flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products.
"This ordinance was created to protect clean air for all residents and to ensure youth do not have easy access. There were exemptions to the ordinance allowing business owners who specialize in selling tobacco products to continue to do so, ensuring access for adult residents," Richardson said in a written statement sent Tuesday.
In short, the city has expanded its definition for retailers of tobacco to include any shop that receives 80 percent of its revenue from tobacco, e-cigarettes and related products.
"In reality we drew a sharp exemption for tobacco and e-cigarette retailers. We carved out a broad exception for vaping shops and expanded definition for retailer of tobacco," Richardson said.
Currently vape shops are only required to have a retailer license, but when the law goes into effect April 29, they will need to have a tobacco retailer license if they hope to continue to allow customers to vape indoors.
"It's wonderful, I'm relieved, very relieved. They should had written [the law] a little bit better and disclosed better," said Mariam Clark, manager of Prime Vape, at 2140 W. Division St. in Wicker Park.
Clark and other local vape shop workers and owners were under the impression that customers would not be able to "vape" indoors once the indoor ban goes into effect.
"You're kidding me?" asked Daryl Cura, co-owner of Vape at 1722 N. Western Ave., when informed of the exemption in the new law. Cura described his emotional state as "ecstatic."
"I don't even know what to compare it to, it's great news, we've been busting our head finding a way to get by this," Cura said.
An important sentence was added to the ordinance passed on Jan. 15, which allows for the use of electronic cigarettes inside of any tobacco store, even if it's not located in a freestanding property.
A prior ordinance allowed smoking inside of a store only if the store was located in a freestanding structure occupied solely by the business, and smoke from the business did not migrate into an enclosed area where smoking is prohibited.
While Cura knew tobacco shops could allow smoking indoors if they were located in a freestanding building, he thought because Vape was not a freestanding store, that even if it did have a tobacco license, he "assumed we couldn't vape in the store."
Wicker Park's four vape shops are all located in commercial storefronts with residential or other commercial units adjacent to them. None of the four shops are located within 500 feet of schools, either.
Cura said he and co-owner Joe Srichinda plan to get a tobacco license.
"It's a huge relief first and foremost, not only for myself but for every vape shop in the city that hears this. It's unfortunate that vape shops weren't aware of this particular rule," Cura said.
Cura said he went to the preliminary hearing on the ordinance in December and that Srichinda attended the City Council Meeting earlier this month with a "bunch of vape enthusiasts."
"Even in the council meetings being able to vape indoors in vape shops was never brought up. That minor detail which is major to us as business owners was never addressed. We assumed we were included in the indoor ban," Cura said.
Larry Eng, owner of Level Vape at 1747 W. North Ave., said he's not sure if he will be getting a tobacco license and needs to "examine pros and cons and if not, will go my other route."
Eng said on Saturday that he "wasn't surprised by the ban" and still plans to open multiple shops with "tasting bars."
Eng claims he "has a legal way to circumvent [the ban]" but declined to share his strategy with a reporter.
Eng predicted the exemption will be "only like a temporary Band-aid."
"People are going to want to vape no matter what. What will vastly affect us is if they tax e-cigs and juices like a regular tobacco product," Eng said.