Another new law for the New Year: Vapes are now the same as cigs in the eyes of Durham County law enforcement. That means no more e-cigarettes on city or county property, including parks and trails and within a 100-foot radius of bus stops. Bars and restaurants can still decide for themselves whether they want to be vape-friendly, per state law.

“We have sent out letters to local restaurants to let them know that it’s within their right to restrict its use,” says Durham County Public Health director Gayle Harris.

Wake County has a similar county-property e-cig ban. Orange County hasn’t yet added e-cigarettes to its Smoke-Free Public Places Rule, but communications manager Stacy Shelp says the county’s board of health will be considering action this year.

Jason Joyner, lobbyist for a klatch of brick-and-mortar shop owners, e-liquid makers and other vape-product suppliers known as the N.C. Vaping Council, says Durham County’s decision was no big surprise.

“Every county or municipality has the right to do it, but I did find it interesting that [Harris’] tagline on the announcement was basically, ‘We know it’s not as safe as clean air, so we’re going to ban it in public places,’” Joyner says. “Well, if that’s the precedent, then what else do we ban? Bus exhaust? What about the bull at the ballpark that blows out the huge cloud of smoke when the batter hits a home run? Is that within 50 or 100 feet of the public sidewalk?”

Moe Makki, of Cloud Vape Lounge in south Durham, says he’s not too worried about the ban. “I’m more worried about the juice tax,” he says.

North Carolina recently became the first state in the country to pass a tax5 cents per milliliteron e-liquid. (That’s the juice that fills up those complex-looking vaping instruments that are en vogue these days.) The law went into effect this past July. Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association, a national advocacy group, sees a connection between the tax and the fact that North Carolina is tobacco country.

“The reason that tax passed is because R.J. Reynolds supported it,” Conley says. The Winston-Salem-based company has an e-cig product, VUSE, but it’s what’s referred to as a cigalike, which is disposable and doesn’t require the purchase of e-liquid. “Tobacco companies don’t want to shut down the e-cigarette product category completely, because they offer some e-cig products. But they want to erect barriers to keep new businesses from competing.”

Harris says the first six months of the ban are meant to be educational. “We’re just trying to get the word out,” she says. “We’re not trying to fine anybody. You’d have to ignore several warnings to get a fine.”

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