Starting next year, e-cigarettes will be banned on most public property in the city and rest of Durham County.
That includes areas within 100 feet of bus stops, in public parks, enclosed shopping malls, elevators, some sidewalks and city and county property.
The ban comes after the Durham County Board of Commissioners updated its smoking rules in public places to include electronic cigarettes, or battery powered nicotine delivery devices.
“We will start putting signs up in January,” Public Health Director Gayle Harris said. Enforcement will begin in July.
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The county rule is essentially meant to be educational, Harris said. Violators, however, could be fined up to $50 after an oral or written warning, the rules states.
The previous and current change affects much of downtown with its parks, public buildings, and GoTriangle and Bull City Connector bus stops.
In 2010, a state law banned smoking in most bars, restaurants and many lodging establishments.
While the county doesn’t have the authority to prevent the use of e-cigarettes in those spaces, Harris said a letter was sent to restaurants and bars stating that owners have the option to ban e-cigarettes in their establishments.
Advocates of the e-cigarettes have distinguished its use from smoking in general and contend it’s a less harmful alternative that helps people reduce their tobacco use.
Opponents, including the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, have expressed concern about the health implications of inhaling chemicals found in e-juices and the electronic delivery method being a gateway product for non-smokers. Others have raised concerns about the use of e-cigarettes by teens.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is still deciding how it will handle e-cigarettes, research indicates that people are exposed to toxins as a result of e-cigarettes, Harris said.
Harris points to a letter sent from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services that states chemicals that pose health risks have been documented in some electronic nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes.
The health effects may not be limited to users, the letter states.
Electronic delivery systems use an an aerosol that contains nicotine and additional toxins, the letter states.
“Thus, it not as safe as clean air,” the letter states. While the toxins may be lower than cigarettes, there are hundreds of manufactures of devices and related juices and no manufacturing standards.
There is no way to ensure that all of the devices and juices “have acceptably low levels of toxicants,” it states, and some of the devices could be modified to deliver marijuana and other psychoactive substances.
Another concern, Harris said, is the use of e-cigarettes by teenagers.
The letter cites that indicated that from 2011 to 2013 the use of e-cigarettes by non-smokers in middle and high school students increased three-fold to more than 263,000.
Marc Sylvestre, co-owner of The Vapor Girl, which has five retail stores that sell e-cigarettes and juices – including one in Durham – said the rule change is a “slap in the face” to those who are trying to quit smoking.
Sylvestre said there are no studies that indicate vaping impacts others’ health like second-hand smoke and described such bans as an “iirrational panic” made by people who think vaping is the same as smoking.
“From my point of view, I don’t think it is particularly logical,” he said.