By ADAM RUSSELL, firstname.lastname@example.org
Smith County commissioners Tuesday agreed to include electronic cigarettes to the list of tobacco products banned within and just outside county facilities.
Further action is expected to be taken upon review, with changes of the existing county smoking policy possible next week.
Judge Joel Baker said there had been increasing complaints and incidents involving electronic cigarettes, and that a recent study indicating the second-hand dangers of the product prompted the action.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the liquid nicotine inside the battery-powered devices’ cartridge has caused injury to people’s eyes, skin and other body parts.
Uptown Vapor Lounge general manager Justin Campbell said he would support bans inside government buildings but takes issue with the CDC report.
He said the CDC reports only concerned the liquid that goes into the electronic cigarette and irresponsible parents that left the device unattended, not the second-hand vapor. It would be like a parent leaving possibly dangerous cleaning supplies in the reach of children.
Campbell said there is a misconception that the increasingly popular devices produce vapor that is harmful. He said credible, independent studies by universities have shown that vapor released from electronic cigarette smokers, “what looks like a puff of smoke,” does not contain any toxins dangerous or unhealthy to people nearby.
“Switching from conventional cigarettes to vapor was a conscience decision people made for their health and for their family or other people around them,” he said. “To penalize them and push them outside with (cigarette) smokers and around second hand smoke is wrong.”
However, Baker and other commissioners agreed bringing the devices in line with its Smoke Free Policy, which bans smoking from all county facilities and vehicles, would make the rules consistent. The policy also requires smokers be at least 50 feet from public entrances.
There was a report of a court bailiff taking a smoking device away from a juror recently, Baker said.
“We just needed to bring the policy in line with the traditional idea of smoking,” Baker said. “There might be health hazards associated with e-cigarettes, and there’s also a respect factor when you’re talking about being in a county building and around the public.”
Commissioners agreed they would address the policy. Commissioner Jeff Warr said addressing technology and modern ways of consuming products is necessary at times, but he felt adding electronic cigarettes to the banned list was reasonable.
Campbell called the reported incident “disrespectful” to the court and fellow jurors. He said there has been a backlash against the use of electronic cigarettes due to “nuisance” smokers and faulty studies funded by the tobacco industry.
He said electronic cigarettes offer healthy alternative access to nicotine.
Uptown Vapor Lounge opened its first Tyler location in 2012 and now has a second. Campbell said the retail chain expects to expand with four more East Texas locations soon.
Smith County Commissioners meetings are open to public comment and are typically held Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. inside the Smith County Courthouse Annex Building, 200 E. Ferguson St. in Tyler.