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Heads up, D.C. vapers: You can no longer use e-cigarettes in sections of National Park Service land throughout the District where smoking traditional cigarettes is already prohibited.

On Friday, NPS issued a staff memo announcing a ban on the use of electronic nicotine delivery system (or ENDS) “within all facilities and vehicles that are Government owned or leased, and within concessions facilities.” The ban applies to all national parks, of which D.C. alone has 23. But it won’t affect outdoor spaces in the District where smoking tobacco is generally permitted, like Rock Creek Park and the National Mall. (Smoking there has formerly sparked local debate.)

“Acting out of an abundance of caution in light of the scientific findings and uncertainty to date, and in the interest of equity, the purpose of this [memo] is to afford all NPS employees and park visitors the same protections from exposure to nicotine and other harmful substances that may be found in ENDS vapor that are currently in place for exposure to tobacco smoke,” the memo says.

The document updates a 2009 director’s order outlining NPS’ policy toward smoking, which prohibits “the smoking of tobacco products in all interior space owned, rented, or leased by the executive branch of the Federal Government, and in any outdoor areas under executive branch control in front of air intake ducts.” Additionally, the order gives NPS superintendents discretion to disallow smoking in places “when necessary to protect park resources, reduce the risk of fire, or prevent conflicts among visitor use activities.” U.S. News reports that if a park superintendent were to prohibit outdoor smoking for any of those reasons, then vaping would also be prohibited.

It’s worth noting that e-cigarettes don’t have the same combustion potential as traditional ones. They also may be less harmful than tobacco-based products, as they lack the same level of carcinogens (although, because they carry nicotine, some say they’re a “gateway” to cigarettes.)

Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokesperson for NPS in the National Capital Region, clarifies that smoking tobacco cigarettes is currently prohibited “in all National Park Service and concession operated facilities, generally within 25 feet of a building entrance, and all government vehicles.” She adds that smoking—and thus vaping—is specifically banned at the following D.C. locations:

  • National Capital Parks–East: on the skating surface at the Anacostia Pavilion, anywhere at Oxon Cove Park
  • National Mall & Memorial Parks: on the grounds of monuments and memorials, at large concentrated public gatherings
  • Rock Creek Park: Grounds of Carter Barron Amphitheater
  • Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: Filene Center facilities including the amphitheater, lawn seating, concessions and walkways.

It hasn’t been an easy year for vapers in D.C. This summer, the D.C. Council approved a budget provision to tax vapor products like tobacco products, a decision local shop owners say will put them out of business.

Photo by Sarah Anne Hughes