E-cigarettes: raising concerns in local communities

Just five years ago, if a person were asked, “What is an e-cigarette?” he or she probably wouldn’t have been able to come up with the correct answer.

Now the electronic devices, which produce vapors of nicotine- and non-nicotine-laced liquids that are then inhaled by their users, are available at shops that specialize in them, at retail stores and other locations.

The proliferation of e-cigarettes is of concern to law enforcement and others involved with drug prevention in Chisago County.

Some people see e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to smoking because the vapor has far fewer chemicals in it than cigarette smoke does, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re risk free.

“I’ve been at a few state meetings talking about e-cigarettes and where it is headed — the problem isn’t necessarily with smoking e-cigarettes, it’s what other chemicals they’re putting in them,” Executive Director of Chisago County Community Partnership Tom Koplitz said during a Community Partnership meeting Jan. 22.

He noted the state and federal governments do not currently regulate the devices.

Chisago County Public Health Nurse Nancy Bargsten said she thinks e-cigarettes are aimed at children, especially since the e-cigarette “juices” often come in a variety of fruity flavors.

“With what I’ve read, it seems like the young are just glomming onto it,” she said.

Lakes Area Police Chief Kevin Stenson and North Branch Police Chief Dan Meyer said their departments have conducted compliance checks at businesses that sell e-cigarettes — buyers have to be 18 years old to purchase — and those businesses have passed the checks.

However, law enforcement is concerned about the potential of “vapor rooms” starting at these businesses, where e-cigarette purchasers can come and sample the product before buying.

“We called the County Attorney’s Office, and in their opinion, a vapor room for e-cigarettes would need a tobacco license from the city — that’s their opinion, but it’s not the opinion of the state,” Stenson said.

Action taken against e-cigarettes

Even though there’s no state or federal legislation that governs the production or use of e-cigarettes, some local units of government, including the Chisago County Board of Commissioners, have taken steps to regulate the use of the product.

At its Dec. 18 meeting, the board voted to place regulations on “vaping” at county-owned buildings. Essentially, the new restrictions treat e-cigarettes the same as cigarettes, meaning those who want to use them can only do so in designated areas.

Koplitz mentioned Mankato recently went a step further than Chisago County and banned the use of e-cigarettes in all public areas.

Concerned that the devices could be used to inhale more than just nicotine-laced vapor, the Mankato City Council voted 6-1 Jan. 13 to prohibit their use in public areas.

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