METRO ATLANTA, Ga. — A slew of new local government regulations has slowed the boom of smoke and vape shops in Metro Atlanta.
Citing public distaste and public health concerns, jurisdictions have implemented an array of measures to limit smoke and vape businesses within their boundaries.
Local businesses have had to bear the brunt of regulations, slimming their profit margins.
Heads Off Smoke Shop has been part of the Forsyth County community for nearly 10 years, but product-specific licenses, permits and regulations have been progressively hurting the small business’ bottom line, owner Abhi Bhardwaj said.
While the process of acquiring these permits hasn’t been difficult, Bhardwaj said, “It is expensive because we have to get these licenses every year.”
Forsyth County has specific business permits for vapor/e-cigarette businesses as well as those attempting to sell “non-traditional tobacco paraphernalia” which includes items like bongs. Non-traditional tobacco paraphernalia permits can range in costs based on the type of devices sold, but they can cost a minimum of $2,000 to a maximum of $3,000, not including application fees.
In addition to fees, Bhardwaj says the county has not been clear about regulation and has kept the wording of ordinances intentionally vague.
“It’s just how the laws are worded that leaves them open to their own interpretation which sort of makes it harder for us,” Bhardwaj said.
The non-traditional tobacco paraphernalia permit is especially unclear, he said.
“That one is entirely dependent on how they feel… I don’t know how many they’re giving out or if it’s just them trying to make money and stuff — which is fine — but we don’t get a whole lot of information about it,” Bhardwaj said.
The County Commission banned the sale of products “that mimic the effects of marijuana and drugs” in an ordinance passed in February 2019.
While the ordinance does not delineate specific products that are banned, Bhardwaj said that this summer delta-8 products were folded into the ordinance, which has further impacted his business.
“By the time they banned delta-8 it had become from about a third to 40% of our business,” Bhardwaj said. “We’re still doing well, but we are missing out on a lot of business. We’re having to send people over to Dawson, Alpharetta, Johns Creek… I think it’s at least 10 customers a day that we’re redirecting.”
Since this summer, Alpha Smoke in Alpharetta has seen an increase in customers seeking out delta-8, manager Gary Annast said.
Alpharetta also has regulations in place to limit smoke/vape businesses within its borders, however the city primarily uses the zoning code, not permits like Forsyth.
While Annast said Alpha Smoke hasn’t had much red tape to cut through, personally, municipal restrictions have impacted his entrepreneurial ambitions.
Annast is looking to open his own smoke/vape shop and said zoning restrictions have caused him to look outside of Alpharetta to start his business.
Up to this point, neighboring Johns Creek has had minimal limitations on smoke/vape businesses within its boundaries and now hosts 10 such shops in the city. However, city staff are working to update the city’s zoning code to limit an influx in new smoke/vape businesses before the end of February.
Existing businesses will likely be grandfathered into the code, but proposed updates could curtail new development in the city.