Starting on Friday, 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 county has banned smoking from those areas since 2012, and county commissioners voted in September to expand the rules to include electronic cigarettes, or battery powered nicotine delivery devices.
“We will start putting signs up in January,” said county Public Health Director Gayle Harris. Enforcement will begin in July.
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 rule states.
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A state law banned smoking in most bars, restaurants and many lodging establishments in 2010. 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 e-cigarettes have distinguished their use from smoking in general and contend they’re 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 about the electronic delivery method being a gateway 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 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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 CDC wrote. Electronic delivery systems use an aerosol that contains nicotine and additional toxins, the agency said.
“Thus, it’s not as safe as clean air,” the letter states. While the toxins may be lower than cigarettes, there are hundreds of manufacturers 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,” the CDC says, 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 CDC letter says that from 2011 to 2013 the use of e-cigarettes by nonsmokers in middle and high school students increased three-fold to more than 263,000.
‘Slap in face’
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 affects others’ health the way second-hand smoke does. He described such bans as an “irrational panic” 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.