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City of Monona imposes 180-day vape shop moratorium to address underage vaping

'We need to do a little bit more to regulate these types of establishments,' Monona city administrator said

A researcher holds vape pens. Craig Mitchelldyer/AP Photo

The city of Monona is more than one month into its six-month moratorium on vape shops to address public health and safety concerns from local officials.

Last month, the city in Dane County issued a 180-day moratorium to prevent retailers from obtaining zoning and building permits to sell e-cigarettes. The move comes after city council members rejected the opening of a fourth vape shop due to its proximity to schools.

Neil Stechschulte, city administrator of Monona, told WPR’s “Wisconsin Today” that the purpose of the moratorium is to determine what is an “appropriate number” of vape establishments for a population of 8,500. 

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He said due to Dane County’s “housing crunch,” Monona is seeking to increase residential opportunities on Monona Drive.

“In Monona, we’re kind of landlocked,” he said. “Also, from a business standpoint, we’d like to see more restaurants, more commercial shops, more delis, more food-related things.”

Stechschulte said the Monona moratorium affects vape shops that have 10 percent or more of its floor space dedicated to e-cigarette devices or related paraphernalia. 

The city has three area vape shops, most of which are located on Monona Drive. Community members reportedly refer to the area as “Vape Alley.”

“During school or especially around lunch hour right after school, you see the number of kids that are walking up and down that whole corridor (Monona Drive),” Stechschulte said.

The city’s moratorium on vape shops also gives police officers the power to inspect any electronic smoking retailer during operating hours. 

“Our existing facilities have been very cooperative and working well with us. So we’re probably going to manage to continue the similar type of regulation and enforcement if we can,” Stechschulte said.

In April, Monona’s Police Chief Brian Chaney wrote a letter to city administrators to say that local highschool students accessing vape and nicotine products is a “chronic issue.”

“This business would in essence serve as a tobacco billboard advertisement to those young persons passing by every day on the way to and from school,” Chaney wrote. 

Under federal law, the sale of tobacco products is prohibited to people under 21 years of age. 

“Chief Chaney has certainly heard from other police chiefs in Dane County wanting to monitor how we proceed,” Stechschulte said. “I think adults are not going to have any problems trying to find options to acquire these products. That’s really not the intent.” 

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, on average, underage tobacco and vape sales have increased 140 percent since 2019. 

As the moratorium continues, Stechschulte said research is ongoing to study the health effects of vaping.

“(Public Health Madison & Dane County) has been a great partner in this already,” he said. “The American Lung Association also has reached out and said they’re interested in providing whatever data they can.”

Last year, the city of Milwaukee issued a similar moratorium and adopted an ordinance, which states: “The file … stipulates that new vape and smoke shops cannot open within 500 feet of an existing, similarly classified retailer, and prevents them from opening within 1,000 feet of a school.”

“We did take a good look at what the city of Milwaukee has done. We’re very interested in following up and see how successful they feel,” Stechschulte said. 

According to Stechschulte, Monona officials want vape shop regulations to enhance public health for the community, particularly for young people.  

Before the moratorium ends this fall, he said, “I think that’s going to be working with our partners … certainly at the school district, certainly working with Madison, Dane County Public Health.”