The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday passed a bill banning the use of electronic cigarettes in all places where traditional tobacco smoking is now prohibited, including county buildings, bars, restaurants and other businesses open to the public.
If signed into law by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who supports it, it would be the first such ban in the Washington area.
The council also voted to bar pet stores from selling kittens or puppies from commercial breeding “mills” and authorized the hiring of a development ombudsman to help businesses and individuals through the often-complicated county approval process.
All three measures were approved unanimously and are expected to become law.
The ban on e-cigarettes also covers e-cigars, e-hookahs, e-pipes and vape pens, which are devices that are shaped like pens but function as smoking devices and vaporize herbs, oil or wax.
About a dozen states and numerous cities have some form of prohibition on such devices. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration announced its intention to regulate e-cigarettes, a process that could take several years.
Research into the health effects of e-cigarettes and similar devices is limited, but studies do show that many e-cigarettes use a tobacco solution that contains several cancer-causing chemicals.
Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), the bill’s sponsor, said the county should not wait for the federal government to act. People — including teens — could be drawn to e-cigarettes if they believe that the devices are safer than traditional tobacco, she said.
Maryland already bans the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. But the Montgomery bill also restricts the sale of liquid nicotine containers, used in e-cigarettes, unless they have childproof packaging. Many of the liquid products come in flavors designed to appeal to minors, including cherry and chocolate.
“It’s like they were designed by Ben and Jerry’s,” Floreen said.
Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) said it was important for the county’s e-cigarette regulation to be consistent with rules governing tobacco so restaurant proprietors and owners of other businesses don’t have to determine on their own exactly what kind of product a patron is using.
The pet store bill requires that shops selling dogs or cats obtain them from a shelter or nonprofit rescue organization — an effort to keep stores from doing business with large-scale commercial breeding operations. The measure does not prohibit private individuals from making transactions with breeders.
Animal rights activists, who overwhelming supported the bill, say cats and dogs from mills often suffer from health or behavioral problems that new owners don’t discover until after they take the animals home.
What’s unusual about the bill, which was sponsored by Leventhal, is that there are no pet stores in the county’s jurisdiction that sell puppies or kitttens. Leventhal, who owns a parrot, said he intended the new law as a preventive measure — and has been surprised by its popularity.
“I’ve been an elected official for 12 years, and it took me this long to realize that people love their puppies,” he said at a recent news conference. “Where have I been?”
According to the Humane Society of the United States, 70 localities nationwide — including Chicago and Los Angeles — have similar restrictions.
The council also voted Tuesday to approve Leggett’s request to establish the position of development ombudsman. The official, who would report to Leggett, would serve as a high-level contact to guide developers through an approval process that involves multiple county agencies as well the county planning board.
Officials stressed that the ombudsman, who will be paid about $200,000 a year, will not have the authority to exempt projects from required scrutiny or maneuver them around laws or regulations.
The idea is for “a person who can help all the players, not just developers, navigate the shoals of the regulatory environment,” said Floreen, head of the council’s planning and housing committee.
Creating the position of ombudsman is one of a series of initiatives Leggett has launched in an effort to help improve the county’s reputation in the business community.
Relations have been frayed, he has said, by a combination of regulatory delays and a steady stream of progressive legislation, including minimum-wage increases as well as new health and environmental laws.
Leggett has also floated the idea of creating an independent economic development authority, patterned after one in Fairfax County.
Earlier Tuesday, the council set aside plans to renovate its aging office building. The action followed protests from the school board president that the $31 million proposal sends the wrong message as the county attempts to secure more school construction money from Annapolis.
Leventhal said Tuesday that the matter has been pulled from the agenda of a government operations committee meeting scheduled for Thursday.
He added that the item was removed not because of school board opposition but because there is no council consensus on how to proceed.