Sedgwick County commissioners are poised to reverse a policy that allows county employees to use e-cigarettes in the courthouse.
E-cig use — known by the slang term "vaping" — was approved by the commission in 2106 on a 3-2 vote.
But the commission makeup has changed and supporters of the electronic nicotine-delivery devices now to be on the short side of a 3-2 split.
Commission Chairman David Dennis brought the ban to the agenda and Commissioner Michael O'Donnell said he'll probably go along with that unless something comes up during debate Wednesday to change his mind. Commissioner David Unruh opposed e-cigarettes when the issue came up in 2016.
Commissioner Jim Howell and Richard Ranzau voted in favor of e-cigs in 2016, along with former commissioner Karl Peterjohn.
Dennis said research he's done indicates that users of e-cigarettes exhale nicotine and other harmful substances.
"We don't allow smoking in our facilities," he said. "I don't know why we would allow e-cigarettes."
He said smokers can go outside and e-cig users could do the same.
Howell said he doesn't smoke or use e-cigs, but supports allowing vaping because it's much safer than smoking for the users and there's no evidence that it harms anybody else.
"It's not scientific (to ban e-cigarettes). It is politically correct," he said.
He said county rules allow only unflavored e-cigarette liquids and require that any use be out of view of the public.
Howell said he's guided by the experience of his parents, both of whom were smokers. His late father was a chain smoker who rolled his own cigarettes, he said.
"Smoking was more important to him than eating," Howell said. His father died at 80 but might have lived longer if he had used e-cigarettes instead, Howell said.
Howell said his mother is in a nursing home and has Alzheimer's disease. She asks him for cigarettes every time he visits, but smoking and e-cigarettes are both banned there, he said.
"I would love it if I could give her something that would satisfy her cravings," he said.
Smokers inhale nicotine along with many other chemicals from burning tobacco. E-cigarettes use a prepared liquid containing nicotine, which is flashed into steam by a heating element and inhaled.
An expert committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a comprehensive report in January drawing 47 conclusions from the available research and ranking each conclusion by the reliability of the studies from which it came.
There is little question that the liquids used in e-cigarettes can be dangerous if used improperly and there is an accompanying danger from poorly-made vaping equipment, the report concluded.
But under normal conditions, the panel generally concluded, exposure to toxic substances is much lower for users of e-cigarettes compared with regular smokers.
Research on cancer and other possible health effects is sketchy, the panel concluded.
"There is limited evidence from (live) animal studies using intermediate biomarkers of cancer to support the hypothesis that long-term e-cigarette use could increase the risk of cancer," the report said. "There is no available evidence from adequate long-term animal bioassays of e-cigarette aerosol exposures to inform cancer risk."
The report also concluded that use of e-cigarettes in a confined space increases levels of nicotine and other chemicals in the air compared with the regular background, but it was inconclusive on whether those levels are significant and proposed further study.
The commissioners will discuss the issue at their meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the courthouse, 525 N. Main, Wichita.