Wright board amends tobacco ordinance to include e-cigarettes

By John Holler

Contributing writer

There has been a public debate as to whether electronic cigarettes have the same level of health risk as traditional tobacco cigarettes. Some see e-cigarettes as an alternative for those looking to quit smoking. Others see them as merely a different form of smoking. At the Oct. 8 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners debated whether to categorize e-cigarettes as a component of the county’s tobacco ordinance.

The county regulates where tobacco products can be sold and requires a license be issued for those who sell them. The issue, as it was discussed by the board is whether e-cigarettes are categorized in the same way traditional cigarettes. The proliferation of e-cigarettes in Minnesota has spread in recent months when the state raised the price of cigarettes $2 a pack. Assistant County Attorney Brian Asleson said the county has received inquiries about whether e-cigarettes are viewed as the tobacco products or not, since there is no second-hand smoke. The ordinance changes wouldn’t differentiate between standard tobacco cigarettes and the electronic alternative.

“The change deal with the incorporation of e-cigarettes in the definition of tobacco products,” Asleson said. “We have received inquiries from people who want to sell e-cigarettes only and not tobacco products, so we have a new area of our ordinance that hadn’t been addressed before.”

The board was informed that information about the long-term impact of e-cigarettes hasn’t been done yet and that Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate the sale of e-cigarettes, so there are unanswered questions. Commissioner Charlie Borrell asked why the county should be making such a decision when the state mandates laws concerning e-cigarettes. In 2010, the state passed legislation making it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors, but Borrell believes the e-cigarette could be an alternative for those looking to quit smoking.

“Where is it going to stop?” Borrell asked. “Are we going to start making rules about nicotine gum next? Is this a problem? I think we’re putting the cart before the horse on this.”

Board Chairman Pat Sawatzke had his own opposition to the proposed ordinance changes, saying that e-cigarettes could be a smoking cessation tool and, as such, should be applauded, not regulated.

In the end, the board voted 3-2 in favor of amending the ordinance, with Borrell and Sawatzke voting against it. The board also instructed County Coordinator Lee Kelly to draft a proposed change to county policy that would address the use of e-cigarettes on county property.

In other items on the Oct. 8 agenda, the board:

Approved a transfer of $1 million from the county’s reserve fund to the capital projects technology fund. There are numerous upgrades needed in the county’s technological framework that require attention and it was felt that the money should be taken from the reserves in the general fund rather than make the costs part of the county’s taxable levy.

Laid over for one week bids received for the cleanup of County Ditch 10. The three bids all came in over the estimate of $115,000, with the low bid coming from Blackstone Contractors or Corcoran at $148,484.

Approved hiring appraiser Clay Dodd to perform appraisal work for the county in a potential court case coming with J&B RE Inc. in the City of St. Michael. The company has filed a tax court petition disputing the county’s appraised value of its property. The appeal covers the 2011 and 2012 tax assessments. The county claims the property is worth $13 million, while the company claims the property is worth roughly half that amount.

Referred to the personnel committee a request to add a full-time employee in the veteran’s services office.

Approved the parks department fee schedule for 2014. Most of the fees remained the same, but there were minor increases to the cost of campsites at Collinwood/Schroeder Park.

Authorized signatures on a resolution of support for a request being made by Stockholm Township to access grant funds from the state’s Township Road Fund for improvements to Rhodes Avenue along the entrance to Collinwood Park.

Rescheduled the building committee meeting scheduled for Oct. 9 to the Oct. 23 committee meeting day.

Authorized board attendance at the 120th Annual Minnesota Transportation Alliance annual meeting Thursday, Nov. 7 in St. Cloud.

Scheduled a committee of the whole meeting for 10:30 a.m. following the Nov. 12 board meeting to discuss elected department head salaries for 2014.