Councilmember Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large) has sponsored an excellent piece of legislation designed to curtail the sale of vape materials, especially to kids, within Montgomery County.
The bill would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes within a half mile of any middle or high school, eliminating sales at 19 of the 22 existing shops as well as preventing many of the other 600 retailers who sell vape materials from easily picking up the slack in sales to minors. Albornoz’s proposal would also sensibly prohibit the distribution of flavored e-cigarettes to any stores within a mile of a middle or high school.
I’m pleased that the bill has strong support from County Executive Marc Elrich and the entire Montgomery County Council. This is one business we don’t need. I only hope the prohibitions on conventional cigarettes are equally strong.
Racial Equity and Social Justice Analysis
The Council is also about to give final approval to Council President Nancy Navarro’s racial equity and social justice legislation. It’s not yet in effect, so I imagine no racial equity and social justice analysis of Albornoz’s bill has been performed. But it nevertheless provides a salutary example of why Navarro’s bill will not do much to advance its laudable goals.
Let’s imagine that the racial equity and social justice analysis indicates that whites and Asians vape at greater rates than blacks and Latinos in Montgomery, perhaps because they can, on average, better afford the habit. The correlation between education and smoking renders this unlikely. But should the Council kill the legislation if it would widen the economic and racial health gap if its positive effects fall disproportionately on whites and Asians?
On the other hand, economically disadvantaged African Americans and Latinos who enjoy the legal, adult pleasure of vaping might not appreciate the creation of vaping deserts in their areas. I envision the vaping industry, already working hard to blackwash vaping, will try to ride this argument combining freedom and minority rights hard. Though I find it self-serving and unpersuasive, vapers might not agree. Equity can prove a tricky concept.
The clampdown on vape stores and sales might disproportionately impact poor and working-class people who work in vape stores and small minority-owned businesses that make a nice profit off of selling vaping supplies. The Council has oft utilized the latter argument for why we need to protect the alcohol monopoly.
Would the Council really change its mind on vaping and protect these employees and businesses in the name of racial equity and social justice? Alternatively, would the Council appropriate funds to aid workers and businesses transition away from their economic addiction to vape sales instead of, say, school construction?
Any racial equity and social analysis impact of this legislation will require a considerable amount of time to gather and to analyze hard data. Navarro’s bill applies to all new proposed legislation as well as existing programs and expenditures, so her well-intended legislation will shift county employees away from their normal duties to address this requirement even if its impact, as with Albornoz’s legislation, is irrelevant, mixed, or unclear.
Racial equity and social justice remain laudable goals. But Navarro’s bill will unintentionally shift resources away from accomplishing them. Instead, allow county employees to focus on doing their jobs well, which already often involves accomplishing these goals. Any money saved could go to Montgomery College. The education and skills that it imparts do a tremendous amount to allow people to move up the ladder. That’s racial equity and social justice.