NORTH MANKATO — The city of North Mankato won’t issue licenses for hookah bars or indoor sampling of e-cigarettes for up to a year while it studies the issues, the City Council decided on a 2-1 vote Monday.
The decision doesn’t prevent an e-cigarette store from opening, as a Lake Crystal man plans to do on Belgrade Avenue, and it doesn’t regulate the use of e-cigarettes elsewhere in the city.
But City Attorney Mike Kennedy suggested that hookah bars, which let people sample flavored tobacco, and indoor e-cigarette sampling raise questions.
“I’ve been getting information, as I’m sure some of you have, about whether they are or are not dangerous,” he said of e-cigarettes. “It needs study. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Councilman Kim Spears delivered a vigorous defense of e-cigarettes, calling it an issue of personal freedom.
“Whatever happened to liberty in this country? If a person wants to do themselves harm and they don’t want to do other people harm, then I say let them do that,” he said. But he was voted down by Mayor Mark Dehen and Councilman Biller Steiner.
“I think it deserves some study,” Steiner said.
Kevin Morin, an owner of three e-cigarette stores in the metro area who attended the meeting but didn’t speak, said he still plans on selling e-cigarettes in a former hardware shop on Belgrade Avenue.
The ordinance will prohibit his customers from sampling e-cigarettes, forcing them outside to sample the product before they buy it.
Mankato recently banned e-cigarette use in public places, a decision that led Morin to look at North Mankato instead, he said.
Spears suggested the city’s study would be nothing but a formality.
“I’m predicting the future here. Everyone around here wants to see it dead and that’s what’s going to happen,” he said.
But Kennedy said the city won't pre-judge what the study will find.
“Whatever an e-cigarette is, it’s not a cigarette,” he said. Because they don’t burn, e-cigarettes don’t emit smoke.
As for the hookah bar, Kennedy said “it’s not like it’s an opium den or something like that. It’s just a different way of … delivering nicotine to someone.”