Unanimous: E-cigarettes banned from county offices

Published on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 22:23 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL arussell@tylerpaper.com

County commissioners officially banned the use of electronic cigarettes inside county facilities unanimously Tuesday.

The devices will be included in the county’s “smoke free” policy, which does not allow smoking inside facilities or vehicles and at least 50 feet from public entrances.

County Judge Joel Baker said he had concerns about the lack of credible studies about possible health hazards to those around them. He said he understands some people are using e-cigarettes to stop smoking cigarettes but that he wanted a policy to end any confusion and put to rest any concerns or future problem regarding their use on county property.

Commissioners seemed torn about adding the devices to the no-smoking policy because some people use electronic cigarettes to stop smoking, and not all contain nicotine products.

Commissioner Jeff Warr said he finds e-cigarettes to be a personal nuisance but was concerned the court was meddling in people’s choice, one that might be healthier.

“I’m not ever excited about government getting into people’s personal business, especially when it comes to something they may be using to quit smoking,” Warr said.

Other members agreed and said they did not want to deter people from using the product.

But the court unanimously agreed that making the policy consistent with other traditional smoking products would remove any confusion about whether “smoking” is allowed in Smith County buildings.

Human Resources Director Leonardo Brown said he had received several complaints and concerns regarding electronic cigarette use inside county offices. He said allowing the use of devices that released even “perceived smoke” could add confusion to the policy and make policy enforcement difficult.

But enforcement may be difficult anyway, Commissioner Terry Phillips said. Some elected officials do not enforce the current “50 feet from entries” policy at their offices, he said, and added that some may choose not to enforce the e-cigarette ban.

There was discussion about letting department heads and elected officials determine policies for their offices but again “consistency” in the policy was the concern.

Baker said he was concerned about allowing the public or employees use the products and their presence be a concern to others or distraction to public business, such as jury selection, when about 300 residents are inside the jury selection room inside the courthouse. There had been reports of a bailiff being instructed by a judge to remove an e-cigarette from a juror during a trial.

The court has jurisdiction over county facilities and members should direct the policy, he said.

Downtown Vapor Lounge manager Justin Campbell addressed the court before the vote and said he agreed that using the device in a formal setting was not right. But he said the court should consider the effects banning e-cigarettes would have on its employees.

“You made a lot of great points and unfortunately not all sense is common,” Campbell said. “But the solution isn’t a blanket policy that affects (county) employees.”

In a recent interview, Campbell said there has been a backlash to the popular devices and that he hopes a ban wouldn’t create a misconception that e-cigarettes are not a healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes.

Several smoke shops have opened in Tyler during the past year and Campbell said Downtown Vapor Lounge is expected to expand with four more East Texas locations soon.