Smithfield sets limits for smoke and vape shops

Published 5:41 pm Monday, December 11, 2023

Smithfield Town Council voted unanimously Dec. 5 to approve a change in the town’s code and zoning ordinance that will restrict where smoke and vape shops are allowed to operate.

The new law won’t affect the proposed “Planet Tobacco & Mart” slated for the former 7-Eleven on South Church Street, nor any of the three smoke shops already operating in town, but will impose limits on any future so-called “recreational substance establishments.”

The adopted language defines “recreational substances” as products made of tobacco, any noncombustible product containing nicotine or vaping fluid, hemp and raw materials made from hemp, Kratom and cannabidiol, also known as CBD.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Prior to the change, the town’s ordinance didn’t distinguish between smoke shops and other types of retail outlets, which are permitted by right in commercial zoning. The adopted language now makes that distinction by classifying any business devoting 25% or more of its total inventory, or 15% or more of its total shelf space, to the listed products or the sale of any pipe, hookah or similar device related to their inhalation as a recreational substance establishment.

Any future recreational substance establishments will be prohibited in residential office zoning and permitted only by special use permit in all other commercial and industrial zoning designations.

The adopted language allows the Planning Commission and Town Council to consider in their deliberations on each requested special use permit the proposed site’s proximity “to schools, religious institutions, libraries, or other institutional uses, and residential uses.”

The language includes a requirement that during all hours of operation, all glass portions of windows and doors along the front facade of a recreational substance establishment be transparent and not be heavily tinted or obscured – a provision aimed at making it easier to ensure no one frequenting the store is underage. A new state law passed earlier this year sets a minimum age of 21 for the purchase of Kratom-based products.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Kratom is a herbal substance that can produce opioid and stimulant-like effects. A federal law enacted in 2019 raised the minimum age for tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes or vape pens, from 18 to 21. The adopted ordinance changes further prohibit smoking or vaping on the premises at any time unless the establishment complies with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act.