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Washington County next in line to restrict e-cigarettes

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Washington County officials are poised to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in buildings and vehicles that are county owned.

The county's current smoking policy only applies to traditional tobacco products like cigarettes and cigars. Earlier this month the County Board discussed and generally supported a proposal to expand that policy to include e-cigarettes as well as chewing tobacco, the Woodbury Bulletin reports.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered metal or plastic cartridges that heat a liquid solution containing nicotine and create a vapor that users inhale.

They've become a popular alternative to tobacco because they don't produce smoke; some argue that makes them safer than cigarettes and should be allowed indoors.

There's not much research yet to indicate what, if any, health risks are associated with e-cigarettes. But the state and local governments are nevertheless beginning to take action to restrict their use.

The state Legislature restricted the use of e-cigarettes in many public places in the 2014 session, including day care centers, hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities, as well as government buildings, from town halls to state offices and college and university campuses.

Some communities have gone further, banning e-cigarettes in any place of business including bars and restaurants. This map provided by ClearWay Minnesota, an anti-smoking group, shows them. 

Don Theisen, Washington County’s public works director, told the County Board he doesn't expect any problems enforcing 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, according to the Star Tribune.

The expanded policy would apply to all county buildings including the main government center in Stillwater; branch offices in Cottage Grove, Forest Lake and Woodbury; county libraries and other county buildings. It would also apply to county-owned vehicles.

Several cities in Washington County have already passed similar restrictions, the Star Tribune notes, including Bayport, Hugo, Lakeland, Newport, Oakdale, Oak Park Heights and Woodbury.

One county commissioner asked for some clarification on how the new language would impact people who use nicotine gum to help them stop smoking, the Bulletin reports. County public health officials said they would review the wording to make sure that's not an issue.

The board will take final action on the policy next month.

A recent report from the Minnesota Department of Health notes that while the number of people smoking tobacco is going down, the number of people trying e-cigarettes is going up, especially among teenagers.

The survey found that 12.9 percent of high school students had used an electronic cigarette in the previous 30 days. It also noted that 28 percent of high school students reported ever having tried an e-cigarette.

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