North Hempstead has proposed banning electronic cigarettes in all town parks as the alternative to traditional cigarettes has grown in popularity.
The proposed ban follows increased concern among parents, educators and lawmakers over the devices, commonly known as e-cigarettes.
Thirteen percent of high school students tried them in 2014 -- a threefold increase over the previous year -- according to a federal study released last week.See alsoSmoking: Complete coverage
The town will hold a public hearing on the ban at a board meeting Tuesday night.
The battery-powered devices, made to look like cigarettes, cigars, pipes and pens, convert nicotine and chemicals into an inhalable vapor. While towns on Long Island have cigarette bans for municipal parks, many of the laws fail to mention e-cigarettes.
"People don't really view e-cigarettes as harmful," said North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan, who is proposing the legislation.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which published the federal study, has referred to the results showing an increase in e-cigarette use by students as "alarming."
However, proponents of e-cigarettes say not enough research is available as to their potential health impact.
North Hempstead, with 833 acres of parkland, includes facilities on the town's Gold Coast and southern tier. Some sections of town parks permit smoking and for those areas, the e-cigarette prohibition would not apply.
"It's not the image we want in our town parks and recreational facilities," Supervisor Judi Bosworth said in an interview.
While officials from the towns of Brookhaven, Huntington, Oyster Bay, Islip and Southampton say there are no specific e-cigarette bans in their municipalities, Hempstead officials say they interpret a cigarette parks ban to include e-cigarettes, too.
Bosworth said allowing e-cigarettes, but not cigarettes, is simply impractical for the code-enforcement officers patrolling town parks. She said "it is too difficult" for them to walk up to potential violators and distinguish "between a lighted cigarette and an e-cigarette."
Officials credit the Manhasset Community Coalition Against Substance Abuse for raising the issue. That group and the Tobacco Action Coalition of Long Island, according to project director Cathy Samuels, have sought to educate the public about the risks associated with e-cigarettes as they grow in popularity.
"They're dangerous," Samuels said. "Safe behaviors will be ensured on those grounds," she said of the desired effect of the proposed legislation. "Kids play in parks, kids see adults and they're only going to mirror the same behavior."
Jenna Tishler, 17, a junior at Manhasset High School, said students who are part of the coalition have spoken to seventh-grade science classes about the devices on Kick Butts Day, a national anti-tobacco event.
"We got up there as older high school students," Tishler said. "It's better for the kids to hear it coming from us."
Teens and e-cigarettes
Among high school students, use increased from 4.5% in 2013 to 13.4% in 2014.
Among middle school students, use rose from 1.1% in 2013 to 3.9% in 2014.
How they work: Powered by battery, e-cigarettes convert chemicals into an aerosol or vapor that the user inhales. Can be used with or without nicotine.
Sources: The CDC and FDA