WINTHROP — You don’t need to spend too much time on the town beach to see that tobacco use and smoking are not allowed. One sign posted at the beach describes it as “a tobacco-free area.” Another warns passers-by that “There’s no smoking on Winthrop Public Beach.”

Soon though, those signs will be getting a makeover. At its Monday meeting, the Town Council unanimously approved a ban on not just traditional smoking and tobacco use at the town beach, but also new smoking technologies such as electronic cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery-powered devices that allow users to inhale nicotine in a vapor form. Using them is also known as “vaping.” Vaping has remained legal in many public places because it does not release the secondhand smoke typically associated with smoking, but it does release other forms of chemicals that are coming under increased scrutiny.

The council approved the ban in a 7-0 vote after hearing a presentation from Joanne Joy, executive director of Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, a regional substance-abuse prevention group. In the same vote, the council also agreed to revisit an ordinance that governs what can be done on town property, with an eye toward creating a broader smoking policy.

Joy’s group is one of those around the state that has received funds from a 1998 legal settlement between states and tobacco companies.

In her remarks to the council, she cited several reasons for considering a ban on vaping at the beach. While tobacco companies market e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative to smoking and a way to quit using regular cigarettes, Joy said there is little research about their health effects.

Electronic cigarettes are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, meaning it is not possible to know how much nicotine they contain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But bystanders can inhale the nicotine that is released when people are vaping nearby.

Joy also pointed to a study that shows e-cigarette use has been growing among children and said allowing them sets a bad example for area children at the beach.

“The intent is really to protect youth” and others who may be exposed to the secondhand vapor, Joy said of the ban she was proposing. She also clarified that her intent was not to alienate those who smoke or vape.

“It really feels punitive to smokers, and we really try hard not to do that,” Joy said of creating smoke-free areas.

No councilors expressed any disagreement with Joy’s points. Some were quick to embrace her proposal.

“I think it’s a good idea to have a smoke-free beach area,” Councilor Linda Caprara said.

When Joy said trash can be left behind when people use electronic cigarettes, Councilor Richard Henry expressed surprise that was possible. If it meant less litter at the beach, he said of the proposed ban, “I’m sold.”

Others around the state also have been sold on the merits of banning electronic cigarette use in public.

In the fall of 2015, state lawmakers passed a law that lumped electronic cigarettes into the same category as cigarettes, which already were banned in public spaces such as restaurants and museums. They did so after the bill was supported by health groups including the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.

The passage of that law followed a decision by Portland to ban vaping in public spaces in 2014.

After the meeting, Joy said electronic cigarettes, along with general tobacco use, is not allowed at public events in Belfast. But it is less clear how many, if any, smaller Maine towns have reached decisions like the one made by the Winthrop council this week. Joy’s group does not maintain a comprehensive list of towns that have enacted such policies, she said, and no news reports could be found on the topic.

Joy also said her group has grant funding and is able to help Winthrop design and produce signs that reflect its new smoking ban.

Besides approving the ban on electronic cigarette use at the town beach in a 7-0 vote, the council also agreed to look at expanding the town’s public property rules to include smoking and vaping bans. But it left any conversations about the form those new rules could take for another day.

Last week, Town Manager Peter Nielsen said the new rules could allow for just temporary restrictions on smoking and electronic cigarette use during events on town property, if that’s what the council saw fit.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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