Sedgwick County is set to approve a policy on e-cigarette use for its employees.
“As e-cigarettes are not tobacco products and fall outside the scope of smoke-free legislation, their use will be allowed in certain designated areas inside the workplace provided they are odorless,” according to the draft policy.
Individual departments will determine those areas. Parts of county government that want to prohibit or restrict e-cigarette use have to show the “business need” to do so.
Employees who want exemptions to vaping bans in their departments can ask for a special area to be set up for vaping.
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The policy acknowledges employees and customers may want to vape “particularly as an aid to give up smoking.”
But Eileen McNichol, the Sedgwick County human resources director, said the proposed policy would apply only to employees.
Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Jim Howell said the county was adopting a moderate and thoughtful policy toward e-cigarette use.
We’re not going to ban them. We’re going to allow them with some control.
Jim Howell, Sedgwick County Commission chairman
“We’re not going to ban them. We’re going to allow them with some control,” Howell said.
Howell also suggested that could increase productivity through fewer smoke breaks.
“This has a propensity to encourage employees to move away from smoking tobacco,” Howell said.
Commissioner Dave Unruh expressed concerns about how departments would have to apply to ban or restrict vaping.
“It seems like that puts an unnecessary burden on some of our departments that will clearly will not want that to be the standard,” Unruh said.
The policy is on the county’s consent agenda, which is made up of of routine, mostly noncontroversial county business. Howell and McNichol noted that human resources policies are typically placed on the consent agenda.
Public health concerns
Some public health advocates are concerned because of limited data on the potential harm of e-cigarette vapor.
“We don’t know enough about the electronic cigarette emissions to completely ensure that they are harmless,” said Becky Tuttle, Health ICT’s project manager. “We just have to make sure that people are not exposed to something that can harm them.”
Tuttle said it’s also unknown whether e-cigarettes are an effective way to quit smoking.
There’s too much that we don’t know right now, and because they’re not regulated, we just don’t feel that they’re a safe product.
Becky Tuttle, project manager for Health ICT
“They are a nicotine delivery device. In many instances, they just help people to continue with their addiction,” Tuttle said. “There’s too much that we don’t know right now, and because they’re not regulated, we just don’t feel that they’re a safe product.”
Tara Nolen, coordinator for the Tobacco-Free Wichita coalition, said promoting vaping is not the best way to encourage employees to quit smoking.
“A lot of places are actually doing completely the opposite and prohibiting these devices,” Nolen said.
Other agenda items
Monday night’s meeting will be held in Derby. Normally, commission meetings are on Wednesday mornings at the Sedgwick County courthouse in downtown Wichita.
There’s a meet-and-greet event at 6 p.m. before the commission meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.
Here’s what’s on tap for the rest of the meeting:
▪ Presentation on McConnell Air Force Base
▪ Emergency Management Preparedness presentation
▪ Public Works presentation on projects in southeastern Sedgwick County
▪ Contract for a Household Hazardous Waste Collection event for Park City
▪ Grant with the Kansas Department of Corrections for behavioral intervention worth almost $600,000
▪ $4.2 million corrections grant for adult re-offender programs
▪ Setting a date for a Derby post-annexation hearing