Electronic cigarettes and vaporizers have become increasingly popular among young adults in Orange County and across North Carolina. Although a few measures are in place to address their use at the county and state level, many health and public officials argue that more must be done.
The Orange County Health Department mandated in 2013 that all public places in the county be “smoke-free.” These public places include town and county buildings, public transportation, bus stops, parks, sidewalks and many other public locations.
The rule also applies to private businesses and stores that are accessible to the public. If a smoker does not agree to stop smoking or remove themselves from the public space after being informed of the rule, they may be issued a citation of up to $25.
Currently, the legislation does not apply to e-cigarettes, vapes or other noncombustible tobacco products. Although the issue was brought to the attention of the Orange County Board of Commissioners by the county health department a few years ago, the lack of research about e-cigarettes made passing a resolution to include e-cigarettes in the smoke-free policy a challenge, BOCC Vice Chair Penny Rich said.
Rich said she thinks the first step to address the issue should be promoting awareness campaigns that communicate the health risks of e-cigarettes to young people.
“With e-cigarettes, we don’t really have an education campaign going on," Rich said. "No one is talking to kids about it, and we’ve got talk to kids about it.”
Young people who use e-cigarettes, but have not used traditional cigarettes, are significantly more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future, according to the Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Although traditional cigarette use has fallen in the past decade among young people in North Carolina, the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes has presented a new challenge for health officials.
E-cigarettes pose particular health risks to young adults because of the negative effects nicotine can have on a developing brain, said Sally Herndon, the head of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch.