A new tobacco policy that prohibits e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco in county buildings and vehicles appears poised for approval.
Julie Sorrem, Washington County's risk manager, said the current policy pertains only to tobacco, while the proposed new policy includes e-cigarettes, a simulated form of smoking.
Don Theisen, as the county's public works director, oversees buildings and their maintenance. He told the County Board recently that he didn't foresee any problems implementing the new policy.
"I don't think in this day and age anybody's going to be surprised they can't come to county buildings and smoke," he said.
The County Board hasn't yet voted on the proposal, but appeared to support it during a recent work session. Many cities throughout the county already have taken action of their own, following warnings from the Minnesota Department of Health that there's no evidence to prove e-cigarettes are safe to inhale in a practice known as "vaping."
Cities taking action include Bayport, Hugo, Lakeland, Newport, Oakdale, Oak Park Heights and Woodbury.
E-cigarettes, promoted by suppliers as an effective method for addicted tobacco smokers to reduce their dependence on nicotine, rely on vaporized liquids.
Health officials dispute those claims as having no scientific basis.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated products that heat liquid nicotine, along with flavors and other chemicals, into a vapor that the user inhales. They don't smell or create smoke like conventional cigarettes, and users can control the amount of nicotine involved.
Such products aren't regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but health officials say liquids that are sold contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals. Marketing includes kid-friendly flavors such as cotton candy and gummy bear.
A new Minnesota law prohibits e-cigarette use in many public places, including hospitals and clinics, public university campuses including dorm rooms and licensed day cares.
A new Washington County policy, if passed, would apply to the main county government campus in Stillwater, to service centers in Cottage Grove, Forest Lake and Woodbury, and to branch libraries and other county buildings. It should go to the County Board for a vote in January.
"We approach wellness with a view of trying to drive down costs," said Lowell Johnson, who oversees the county's public health division.
Commissioner Gary Kriesel said he wanted the proposed policy clarified so that people using cessation products, such as nicotine gum, won't be in violation in county buildings.
"I think it's important to let people know what's acceptable," he said.
E-cigarette use has been linked to future conventional cigarette use, according to a 2013 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 250,000 young people who had never smoked a conventional cigarette used e-cigarettes in 2013, the study said. That compared with about 79,000 in 2011.