Bountiful • Before they opened Vapor Dreams earlier this year, Jen Littlefield and Lewie Lambros "triple checked" that electronic cigarette stores were permitted at their location on 500 South.
Brent Gould, who opened Vapor R Us a few blocks down the street, also asked if his shop met zoning requirements. In both cases, Bountiful city administrators issued business licenses to the enterprises.
But this week, the owners of the businesses, as well as two other e-cigarette establishments, were told in letters from City Attorney Russell Mahan that their licenses would not be renewed for 2014. All four must cease operation starting Jan. 1.
The reason given is that a change in state law bars a retail tobacco specialty business established after July 1, 2012, from being within 600 feet of a residence or within 1,000 feet of a school, library, park or church, among other community facilities.
Owners and operators of the e-cigarette establishments say their jobs and investments will be lost, threatening their livelihoods. Ashley Tims, manager of Urban Vapor, said Friday that six people will be out of work if that store closes.
Gould said he could lose everything.
"If this goes through, it's bankruptcy and four employees get laid off," he said.
Despite the change in the law, four e-cigarette businesses that opened after July 1, 2012, within the prohibited distances were issued business licenses for 2013.
City Manager Gary Hill said in a written statement on Friday that Bountiful was unaware of the state restrictions at the time.
A review of all e-cigarette business locations conducted at the request of the Davis County Health Department showed that the business licenses of the four stores cannot be renewed, he said.
"We realize this situation will be a hardship for the affected owners," Hill said in the release.
Littlefield and Lambros said the situation is particularly frustrating because they already suffered a $10,000 loss after getting the OK to open their business in Layton, only to be told shortly before their planned opening that their store location was too close to a residence.
Before they signed a lease in Bountiful and spent $20,000 remodeling, the pair said they checked with Bountiful city administrators, the Utah Tax Commission and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to make sure they could operate at their location.
"This is our savings," Littlefield said. "They're saying 'tough.' If this law was passed in 2012, why aren't the cities aware of it?"
Aaron Frazier, director of Utah Vapers, said he is meeting Saturday with store owners and lawyers to discuss what action they can take.
"They did their due diligence and were told it was OK," he said. "Each of these shops will be out thousands of dollars."
What are electronic cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, are battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals. They turn nicotine and other chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by the user.
Source: Food and Drug Administration