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LOCKPORT – Niagara County officials intend to ban electronic cigarettes on county property soon.

“I’m just interpreting a local law that’s in place,” County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said. “If you look at the definition of smoking, it’s broad enough to include e-cigarettes.”

No vote is needed from the County Legislature, he said, because the Legislature in 1998 barred smoking on county property and all public places, except for designated areas. County employees may smoke only outdoors and not in county vehicles.

The 1998 law defines smoking as “to inhale or exhale the smoke of burning tobacco or tobacco substitute.”

An e-cigarette uses a small battery-powered vaporizer to boil a liquid containing nicotine into a vapor, which the user inhales and exhales.

“A cigarette is a cigarette,” said County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz, who is expected to issue the edict shortly.

Human Resources Director Peter P. Lopes also confirmed the intent to institute the ban.

“We’ve not had widespread complaints,” Lopes said.

But he said an incident cropped up recently at the motor vehicle office in Lockport, where a customer was puffing an e-cigarette – “vaping” is the term aficionados use, instead of smoking.

“Someone was puffing away indoors,” Lopes said. “The person extinguished the device. It was handled very well on both sides ... Next time, it may not be.”

Although some e-cigarette users say they’re emitting water vapor, Jordan Bork, a Lockport businessman who plans to open an e-cigarette store, said that’s not true.

“It’s propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin,” Bork said. “It’s a thick, dense cloud of the stuff that’s in asthma inhalers.”

Bork, 23, said the vaporizer costs about $50 and a typical user’s supply of nicotine liquid costs about $25 a month – far cheaper than tobacco.

“People intended to quit smoking and they decided this was a safer alternative,” said Bork, who made that decision himself two years ago. But he said “vaping” often doesn’t go over well with people nearby.

“I think people are concerned about the appearance, that it looks like smoke,” Bork said. He said he’s in favor of limiting e-cigarettes in public places “if it makes people feel safer.”

Bork intends to open Elite Vapors in the front of the building now occupied by Hairport, a beauty salon at 343 Walnut St. He needs a special use permit from the Common Council to open the store.

Hairport will remain open, building owner Dennis J. Stachera said, as Bork will rent only about 25 percent of the building. Salon customers will have to walk through the e-cigarette store to get to Hairport.

There are at least four e-cigarette stores in Lockport already. Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said they didn’t need permits or variances because all of them are in areas zoned for retailing. Bork’s plan will have to clear the Planning Board before the Council holds a public hearing and votes.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com