Houston public smoking ban expanded to include vaping, e-cigarettes

Houston City Council unanimously passed a measure Wednesday to expand the city’s current public smoking ban to include e-cigarettes, vaping, and other electronic smoking devices.

A city ordinance passed in 2007 prohibits smoking in many public spaces, workplaces, and near buildings.

The measure amends the ordinance to include all electronic smoking devices that utilize aerosol liquid or vapor including electronic cigarettes, electronic cigars, electronic cigarillos, electronic pipes, electronic hookah, and vaping devices.

Those in favor of the ban cites serious public health concerns.

"There are second hand aerosols that contain nicotine, ultra fine particles of levels of toxins that are known to cause cancer," said Houston City Councilmember, Abby Kamin.

According to the Houston Health Department, enforcing the ban would be based on complaints from fellow residents.

"People can call the health department, easiest way is to call 311. We don't get too many complaints, about three a month, but we'll look into them and a lot of times, it would be just a matter of educating the owner what can and cannot be done," said Porfirio Villarreal, a Houston Health Dept. spokesperson.

However, for restaurant and bar owners like Bobby Heugel of Better Luck Tomorrow and Anvil, the ruling caught him by surprise, with no time to prepare his staffers for their new responsibilities.

"Literally mid-day we find out we now have to enforce this new policy that could’ve just been effective May 1st for example. I think that’s a really big concern because hospitality workers have been put in this situation where they have to enforce mask policies over the last year and a lot of people were assaulted during that time," he said. "I was spit on and pushed myself. I don’t think a lot of that dialogue included consideration for putting hospitality workers in the position of being enforcers and that’s contributed to things like people’s unwillingness to continue to work in the industry." 

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According to the ordinance, smoking is prohibited in enclosed public spaces, enclosed workplaces, within 25 feet of doors and wheelchair ramps, covered concourses of outdoor arenas, outdoor seating areas of public spectator events, and in covered public transportation facilities like bus stops.

Smoking is allowed in private residences unless they are being used as a child care facility, adult daycare, or health care facility. Smoking is also allowed in private clubs, tobacco retail shops, ice houses, and restaurant and bar outdoor seating areas.