Johnson County supervisors discuss use of e-cigarettes

Board waiting on state legislature ruling before making decision on resolution

Published: March 25 2014 | 12:01 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:08 am in

The Johnson County board of supervisors are taking part in the discussion of e-cigarettes, but are focusing on the terminology of what to call the fast-rising products, rather than discussing the health aspects.

The supervisors discussed at a Tuesday meeting creating a resolution to ban the use of e-cigarettes, also known as electronic smoking devices, inside the county building and on county grounds. Although the product has been called “e-cigarettes,” the supervisors are cautious of changing terminology, which could cause loop holes for smokers of the product.

“What I want to get across is we want to cover e-cigarettes or anything similar if they call it something else,” supervisor Pat Harney said.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated products that can heat liquid nicotine and produce a vapor users can inhale. Some e-cigarettes, however, do not have nicotine in them and have been argued by some proponents of e-cigarettes as  a way to quit using cigarettes overall.

The supervisors have a zero tolerance policy on the use of tobacco products on county property, passed a few years before the 2008 Clean Air Act. The four supervisors, with the absence of Terrance Neuzil, had some discussion on whether to follow the same guidelines of their no tobacco policy — banning the use of e-cigarettes both in the county building, as well as the surrounding property.

“The big question is do you care when they’re outside,” supervisor Janelle Rettig said. “We need to keep it consistent, and we have a right to say you can’t stand there and smoke. I just think if you have one rule for one type of product and another rule for another type of product, no one will know any of the rules."

Supervisor John Etheridge focused on the possible benefits the electronic smoking device can provide to those looking to quit the habit of smoking.

“I personally do not smoke cigarettes, but I know it's an expensive habit and this is a way to help them give it up,” he said. "It still has carcinogens but it's reduced, so it helps people more or less [give up smoking,] and this would allow them to do that. It could allow county employees or people permitted to reduce their carcinogen intake."

The board will wait to see what the Iowa legislature will call e-cigarettes before continuing to draft their own resolution, which should be put up to a vote this spring. Andy Chappell, Johnson County assistant county attorney, believed legislature will not discuss banning the product on property and focus on a separate issue.

“If something comes out of the state, I can guarantee they are not going to touch on e cigarettes [being included] in the smoke free air act,” Chappell said. “They are going to focus more on minors that can sell [or buy the product]; they’re not going to touch its use in indoors and outdoors.”

He also added if they do call the product e-cigarettes and then the terminology is changed later, the supervisors would just need to vote to change the language in their own resolution.

Last month the Iowa House approved a ban to selling e-cigarettes to minors. Although some e-cigarettes do not have nicotine, members of the Iowa House, believe use of the product could still lead teens to eventually smoke.

While the supervisors disagree on where the e-cigarettes would be allowed to be used, Etheridge agrees with the other supervisors that there will be a ban on the use of the product indoors.

"Having a confined space, I'm fine with not allowing that at all," he said. "But there's not a lot of research out there about secondhand smoke [from e-cigarettes] and outside, you have carcinogens that can be more easily dispersed, and there are already carcinogens in the air. I think we could look at ways to be a little more flexible."

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