Red Deer residents fond of electronic cigarettes will no longer be able to puff where they please, after city officials clarified the reach of a local smoking bylaw.

The city issued a statement Thursday morning clarifying the existing Smoke Free Bylaw in regards to the devices, saying vaping an e-cigarette falls under its definition of smoking.

That ruling means vapers will not be allowed to use their devices anywhere smoking is already banned, such as cafes, restaurants and near playgrounds.

"We've had a lot of questions and concerns raised by our public, residents plus proprietors of restaurants and bars saying, 'Is it okay if they smoke e-cigarettes?,'" said Red Deer Deputy Mayor Lynne Mulder.

"Smoking in our bylaw would encompass vaping, so we have applied the very same regulations against vaping as we do regular cigarettes."

E-cigarettes have soared in popularity in recent years. But, as often happens with new technology, government regulations have been slow to catch up.

Health Canada advises Canadians not to use the devices and has not authorized their sale in Canada. However, it lacks the resources to inspect retail stores to see if they're complying — and many people buy the devices online.

That has led some municipalities and provinces to take the matter into their own hands.

"We're really just doing this in the absence of federal and provincial regulation," said Mulder. "Health Canada has advised against it and it fits within our bylaw, so that's the approach that we've taken ... because we don't know whether it's safe or not safe, we have selected to ban it anyway."

Other jurisdictions consider local bans

Several provinces and municipalities have begun looking at ways to regulate the use of the devices in the absence of any federal regulation of them.

Nova Scotia plans to introduce legislation in the fall to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 19.

In Ontario, the city of Hamilton voted in May to ask the province for the power to restrict who buys e-cigarettes and where they can be smoked.

In Red Deer, the clarification of the bylaw will give officials the power to crack down on vapers if a complaint is issued. 

Anyone who sees someone vaping in a banned area can call the RCMP non-emergency line and have the person forced to stop.

"Our hope is that we aren't putting people in handcuffs over this," said Mulder. 

Vaping advocates condemn move

While Mulder says she hasn't heard negative feedback from residents yet, vaping proponents say they are considering contacting the city to let officials know of their frustration with the decision.

The Electronic Cigarette Trade Association argues it isn't fair to group vapers together with smokers, especially given that many are trying to break the addictive habit by distancing themselves from smoking.

"If I've decided to vape, not smoke, then I yes, definitely do deserve to be protected from second-hand smoke," said Kate Ackerman, an e-cigarette retailer who is on the ECTA board of directors.

"It would be extremely unfair for any municipality to direct that somebody who is not smoking go and do an activity in a smoking area exclusively."

Ackerman says Red Deer is the first city in Canada to bring e-cigarette restrictions under a municipal bylaw.

However, Red Deer officials could not confirm that statement.