Paxtang Borough proposes ban on e-cigarette sales while business owner is setting up vape shop

Borough officials denied East Coast Vapor a business license, citing a plan to ban vape shops downtown.

  • Brett Sholtis/Transforming Health

(Paxtang Borough) —  While Joshua Sanders was closing on a half-million dollar building for his electronic cigarette business, the borough where his store was located was considering a ban on the kinds of products he sells.

Until recently, Sanders ran East Coast Vapor from a 3,000-square-foot store in Swatara Township. After opening in 2011, he expanded his operation, also making e-cigarette liquid. 

After Johnny’s Discount Furniture in Paxtang Borough closed, Sanders decided the 14,000-square foot building at 3440 Derry Street would make a perfect new location for his growing business. He put in a formal offer of $525,000 in early October, documents show. 

Sanders said he called the borough in September, before putting in an offer on the property, to make sure his business wouldn’t break any rules. He said he spoke with the secretary, and who told him the property was zoned for retail and that “you’re good to go.” 

One thing he didn’t do was get his business license before buying the building. When he went to get that license, he learned there was a problem. 

“They said, ‘Well, we have a pending ordinance. We’re not allowing vape shops in this area,’” Sanders said, later clarifying that he spoke with borough manager Keldeen Stambaugh.  

He was denied a business license, and on Dec. 31 received a notice of violation ordering him to cease “vape shop” operations and apply for a conditional use permit for any other business activity, according to a borough document Sanders provided that was signed by borough zoning officer Robert Ihlein.

The document also states that the borough can fine Sanders up to $500 a day for being open. 

Brett Sholtis / WITF

East Coast Vapor owner Joshua Sanders poses for a portrait at his new store in Paxtang Borough.

Paxtang Borough decided it doesn’t want e-cigarettes to be sold in the roughly half-mile downtown business district, as well as in neighborhoods, said borough manager Keldeen Stambaugh.  

Stambaugh declined to say why the borough decided on the policy, citing the likelihood of a lawsuit with Sanders.

While the decision to restrict vape shops is recent, the rationale behind it goes back to a 2017 ordinance barring medical marijuana sellers from the same area, Stambaugh said. E-cigarette stores, as well as medical marijuana sellers, are welcome to operate in the commercial district—just not downtown. 

Stambaugh said the borough council didn’t know about Sanders’ plan when it began drafting the ordinance.

Borough council meeting minutes show the issue was brought up on Nov. 19. There, council members voted 4-2 in favor of considering the ordinance.

Sanders opened at the new location on Dec. 30, and is running the store without a business license as he girds himself for a potential legal battle if the borough votes to ban e-cigarette sales later this month. The borough meeting is set for Jan. 21.

In this photo made on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, a woman uses her vaping device in Harmony, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

In this photo made on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, a woman uses her vaping device in Harmony, Pa.

 

E-cigarettes have come under fire  in the months since people started getting sick from a lung ailment tied to vaping. In September, the Trump administration said it would ban flavored e-cigarettes in response.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked that illness, which has claimed at least 55 lives in the U.S., to vitamin E acetate used in THC-containing vape oils. 

Prohibiting vape shops from opening is one more example of reactionary policies that target people who use e-cigarettes, Sanders said. Sanders noted, those THC vape products are not legal in Pennsylvania and aren’t sold at his store.  

Many of his customers have used his products for almost a decade, without any of the problems tied to the vaping-related lung illness, Sanders said. 

He said he doesn’t understand how a borough can deny someone a business license based on an ordinance that has not yet been approved—and neither does his lawyer.

 

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