New Augusta Smoke-Free Ordinance Has Vape Shop Owner Fuming

Jan 16, 2019

Augusta’s smoke-free ordinance went into effect on Jan. 1. It outlaws smoking and vaping in most public buildings, and requires smokers and vapers outside to stay a “reasonable distance” away. 

RJ Ramsey, owner of The Vaposeum in Augusta and The Vaposeum Express in Thomson, is troubled by the new regulations.  He said he kicked his 13-year smoking habit through vaping.

Ramsey spoke against the smoke-free ordinance as it was making its way through the county commission, arguing that enforcement of the “reasonable distance” provision is unrealistic.

He explained, “ You have to place responsibility not on just the business owners, but on law enforcement as well. Who’s gonna come out here and play 'hall monitor' and make sure people are compliant with the law?”

While he is not aware of any incidents where police have been called upon to enforce the ordinance, Ramsey says he remains concerned that it fails to acknowledge the difference between smoking and vaping. 

“I’ll use airports as an example," Ramsey said. "Some airports have smoking areas. But I’ll be damned, excuse my language, if I walk into one of those little smoking areas in the airport and be around it, because I can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke anymore, so there’s no place for somebody like me to go. If you’re going to have a smoking area, why not have a vaping area?”

Although the ordinance allows existing vape shops to let customers sample products in the store, a standard practice in the industry, it does not allow new shops to operate that way, which blocks Ramsey’s plans for growth in Augusta.  

His solution? Convince government officials who drafted the “Smoke-Free Augusta” ordinance that, while being smoke-free is a good thing, vaping deserves its own guidelines. 

Attempts to get a “vape shop exemption” built into a Pooler area smoke-free ordinance failed.  A Tacoma, Washington, lawsuit asking that an existing smoke-free ordinance be amended to exempt vape shops is working its way through the courts.