Sedgwick County employees can no longer use e-cigarettes in their offices.
The new policy, which was put into effect by the County Commission Wednesday, only applies to county employees.
Members of the public are still allowed to use e-cigarettes in county facilities, such as the courthouse and the tag office.
Commissioner Richard Ranzau said banning employees from vaping inside county buildings falsely equates vaping with traditional cigarette smoking.
“If we care about the health of our employees, and I know we do, I don’t think we should treat the two as the same because they’re not,” Ranzau said.
The County Commission was encouraged by several health organizations to vote in favor of the policy banning employees from vaping in county buildings. Letters from the Kansas branch of the American Heart Association, the Tobacco Free Wichita Coalition, and the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians addressed the commissioners, urging them to support the policy change.
Commissioner Jim Howell said banning county employees from vaping is an example of government overstepping its boundaries. He compared the policy to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2013 ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.
“Bloomberg got criticized for passing a city law that would simply restrict the access to soda pop for adults,” Howell said. “That was viewed as big government kind of stepping outside their bounds. So I think that this is kind of similar to that.”
The policy passed with a 3-2 vote, effective immediately. Ranzau and Howell both voted against the policy change.
Before Wednesday’s vote, Sedgwick County employees were allowed to vape inside county buildings, as long as it wasn't done in front of customers and the e-cigarette was flavorless and odorless.
“We’re talking about employees doing something in their own space that doesn’t harm anybody else. . . . No one can see it, no one can smell it,” Howell said. “My question is, why do we care?”
Ranzau and Howell both talked about growing up with parents who smoked cigarettes, saying it’s important to provide a healthier alternative to people who may be trying to quit smoking .
“These are not tobacco products,” Ranzau said. “This really has the potential of being literally life-changing for a lot of people.”
Ranzau fought back tears as he mentioned his mother, who died from lung cancer.
“She tried all the government-approved things to try and quit smoking and it didn’t work,” Ranzau said. “And she never lived to see her grandchildren.”
“It’s interesting that the two commissioners that have been most affected by smoking are going to oppose this today,” Ranzau said.
One of the letters to the commission supporting the ban, signed by Tracy Russell from the Kansas branch of the American Heart Association, argues that a “public accommodation” for e-cigarettes “signals to kids that this is an acceptable, even healthy product.”
The letter also says that, when e-cigarettes are compared to traditional cigarettes, “evidence suggests a less harmful product does not equate to harmless.”
Ranzau said that in his research, he has yet to find conclusive evidence that e-cigarettes are dangerous.
“If there’s recent studies that show it’s harmful, etc., I want to see the studies,” Ranzau said. “Not letters that have innuendos and accusations. I want to see the actual studies."