NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Members of the New Hanover County Heath and Human Services board voted unanimously to approve new rules governing the use of both electronic cigarettes and vaping devices and traditional combustible smoking.
The rule, which requires final passage by the New Hanover County Commission, would create new restrictions for electronic cigarettes (e-cigs), and would increase restrictions on traditional smoking within county limits.
If approved, the rules would prohibit smoking and vaping on all county- or city-owned property, as well as in all enclosed spaces where the general public would be allowed. Public property includes sidewalks, parks and public transportation, but also includes restaurants and bars, which without the rules can allow electronic cigarettes to be used indoors.
State law dictates what local governments can and cannot regulate when it comes to smoking, and county staff indicated these rules would be among the most stringent in North Carolina.
The board made its decision after a public comment period, where two people spoke against the new rules, and one person read a letter in favor.
A spokesperson from the county also relayed to the board a breakdown of the 193 online comments the county has received in the two weeks it solicited feedback about the new rules.
Board members discussed the matter at length, particularly the definition of “enclosed spaces" and whether or not the rules are equitable.
Smoking regulations are governed by a civil-citation process and a $50 fine, where the new vaping rules would be enforced using misdemeanor ticketing and fines of up to $200.
Offenses of using electronic cigarettes or vaping devices in prohibited areas would be classified as Class-3 Misdemeanors, the lowest level, similar to speeding 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, or simple shoplifting.
County staff explained this is due to the state statues that give the board its authority, and that officers would have the ability to use their best judgement in determining whether to issue a citation or not.
Michael Allen, who described himself as a consumer and advocate of the vaping industry in the area, said he feels the new rules go too far.
“A lot of the proposal I get and I understand and I agree with. Myself, you know, I don’t want to be around cigarette smoke. I try to avoid those places as much as possible. So, I get not wanting cigarette smoke and vaping in certain spaces and I support that, but it’s just the vilification that the vape industry’s getting that I don’t agree with.”
Because the new rules include changes to how the county looks at traditional smoking, the county commissioners must be in agreement.
Commissioner Woody White, who is now on the health board, said while he was part of the origins of the effort and voted in support of it Tuesday, he isn’t sure how the full commission will view the change.
A county spokesperson said the rule would likely not come before the commission before February.