CORRECTIONS: Due to a reporting error, the original version of this story misrepresented an Orange County Board of Health memo. The memo was sent to health department staff. Due to another reporting error, the original version of this story misrepresented the places e-cigarettes are banned. E-cigarettes are banned in the Chapel Hill Public Library, some worksites and private businesses. The story has been updated to reflect these changes.
Individuals who smoke e-cigarettes may not be able to do so inside bars and restaurants in Orange County much longer.
The Orange County Board of Health sent a memo to health department staff, directing them to prepare a policy that would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in already smoke-free indoor areas of restaurants and bars.
Coby Jansen Austin, senior public health educator at the Orange County Health Department, said research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention may suggest negative health effects are not limited to only the users of e-cigarettes.
Austin said since e-cigarettes are relatively new products, they have not been around long enough to study long-term risks. Using e-cigarettes indoors can lead to secondhand exposure to the aerosol, which can irritate the lungs and eyes of people around e-cigarette smokers, Austin said.
“(This is) especially concerning for children with asthma and other people with respiratory problems,” Austin said.
Austin also said some local high school students have expressed their concern regarding e-cigarette use by peers.
“(We have seen) an overall increase in tobacco use among youth due to novelty products such as e-cigs,” Austin said.
Mayor Pam Hemminger said in an email that the rise in e-cigarette use by middle school and high school students is equally as concerning as the potential health problems from secondhand exposure to e-cigarette aerosol.
Austin said places like the Chapel Hill Public Library and some worksites and private businesses have already restricted the use of e-cigarettes.
She said the Board of Health hopes to have a draft of the rule for public feedback by April, and implementation would happen by the fall.
“The county’s process to draft (the) policy will offer an opportunity to educate the public about the hazards and benefits of e-cigarettes for users and others nearby,” Hemminger said.
Hemminger said she anticipates people with strong opinions on both sides of the e-cigarette discussion.
Town council member George Cianciolo said he does not anticipate a lot of opposition to the potential policy.
“(For) restaurants that are currently banning regular cigarettes, (I) don’t think they will have a problem with e-cigarettes,” Cianciolo said.
Cianciolo also said there is often no information as to what else is in the solution that generates the vapor that e-cigarettes produce.
“It’s a good step forward, and from my perspective as a scientist, it’s a good step forward by the health department,” Cianciolo said.
Cianciolo said he is concerned about issues of enforceability once the policy is implemented.
He said, generally, where Chapel Hill has had the biggest problem with smoking ordinances is people complaining about others smoking at public places, like bus stops.
“You can pass laws, but enforcement of some are more difficult,” Cianciolo said. “We don’t have enough folks to enforce (all of them).”
Cianciolo said the county and Town Council would need to see if there are different problems with enforcing an e-cigarette policy as opposed to a regular cigarette policy.
Town council member Jessica Anderson is also concerned about the enforceability of the potential policy for bars and restaurants.
“It’s on the business owner to enforce it, which is always hard,” she said. “It sounds like (the county is) going to have to take that into account.”
Michael Schillinger, a bartender at Linda’s Bar and Grill in Chapel Hill, said he is not concerned that this policy would affect business.
“Most people that come in here end up going outside to smoke real cigarettes,” Schillinger said.
He also said he has occasionally seen customers smoke e-cigarettes inside the bar, but no one seemed to mind.
Similarly, Justin Dreaver, manager of Hickory Tavern in Carrboro, said he does not anticipate many problems that may come with a new e-cigarette policy.
Dreaver said he has not seen any customers smoke e-cigarettes inside the restaurant in the time he has been manager.
“I just moved from Florida, and I saw a lot more of that there,” Dreaver said. “Maybe (customers) choose not to (use e-cigarettes) in here. My stance is more neutral. I don’t really have a problem with it.”