Smoking and Vaping Ordinance Good for Health and Business

January 20, 2021

By County Manager, Chris Coudriet

In October, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to implement an ordinance prohibiting the use of combustible tobacco and e-cigarettes in public places starting February 1, 2021. This is the most progressive smoking and vaping rule in North Carolina that we are aware of.

It addresses the growing impact of e-cigarette use and aligns regulation with expectations and the social norms of vaping in public places; and it limits exposure to second-hand smoke and vapor in our community.

As business owners, residents in New Hanover County, and community leaders, it’s important that you are informed about what this new ordinance is, so I’ve provided a brief overview for you below.

The ordinance expands the prohibition of combustible tobacco like cigarettes and cigars, as well as e-cigarettes to county, town and city buildings, vehicles and grounds, and in public places in the county like restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. This may seem like nothing new, but in fact, state law does not address smoking in most indoor establishments like retail shops and entertainment venues, and state law doesn’t address e-cigarette use at all.

We have all seen how vaping has increased over the past decade, especially among young people. In 2017, 4.6 percent of adults and 22.1 percent of high school students in North Carolina used electronic vapor products. With evolving research showing aerosols produced by e-cigarettes contain heavy metals and toxins, the County Commission felt it an obligation to do what we can to put protections in place for our residents and visitors, and take rule-making and enforcement off the shoulders of our businesses.

Designated areas for smoking and vaping are still an option along with several exceptions, and specifics on the ordinance and where smoking and vaping will not be permitted is available at Health.NHCgov.com.

The new smoking and vaping ordinance comes after more than a year of work by our Health and Human Services staff and board, working with business owners, community members and municipal partners, to ensure this rule meets the goal of comprehensive public health policy while being manageable from an implementation and enforcement standpoint.

Over the course of three public comment periods we heard from a number of business owners and community members both supportive, and with concerns around the impact this rule would have on their local business and the economy.

In partnership with the business community, our team made changes to the rule, like removing reference to roads and sidewalks, to help ensure businesses would not be responsible for actions of residents outside of their establishment.

We also took a look at the 2009-2010 implementation of the NC Smoke Free Restaurants and Bars Law, and confirmed that no adverse economic impact, or impact to restaurant and bar employment or sales took place. In fact, some places saw an increase in sales because non-smokers are not being exposed to second hand smoke inside establishments. However, in absence of this rule, vaping is technically allowed anywhere, so there are still instances of discomfort among customers, but no pathway to resolution unless a business owner decides to enforce a company policy themselves.

This ordinance takes this responsibility from business owners, and exceptions laid out in the rule like the allowance for smoking and vaping in therapeutic settings, private clubs, theatre and movie sets and other areas ensure industry and business operations continue to move forward.

What we also saw from the NC Smoke Free Restaurants and Bars Law evaluation was a profound impact on health and wellbeing across the state and savings of nearly $4.7 million per year in avoidable medical care costs for hospitality workers. By taking this action locally, we are setting our residents and visitors up for healthier experiences across the community.

Currently, our Public Health team is meeting with leaders and organizations to share information about this ordinance. You will begin to see signs around the county indicating that smoking and vaping is either prohibited or permitted in a designated area. Materials will also be made available to download and display in establishments if desired.

I commend Board of Commissioners, Health and Human Services Board, and our staff for taking this assertive public health approach to protect people from known and unknown effects of second hand smoking and e-cigarette vapors. Again, New Hanover County is a leader in proactive policy.

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