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Baxter City Council: Baxter looks at restricting e-cigs

Representatives from seven lodging establishments - Holiday Inn Express, Days Inn and Baymont Inn, Comfort Suites Rapid River Lodge, Country Inn and Suites, Super 8, and Arrowwood at Brainerd Lakes, all asked the city to consider acting to regulate e-cigarettes. Illustration.

BAXTER - Should the city of Baxter take steps to regulate e-cigarettes or wait to see if the state of Minnesota will act?

That was a question before the Baxter City Council Tuesday. Representatives from seven lodging establishments - Holiday Inn Express, Days Inn and Baymont Inn, Comfort Suites Rapid River Lodge, Country Inn and Suites, Super 8, and Arrowwood at Brainerd Lakes, all asked the city to consider acting to regulate e-cigarettes. They noted the e-cigarettes are growing in popularity. While they are an alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, the lodging owners and managers said e-cigarette smokers feel they can smoke within the smoke-free establishments.

"In this age of very high emotions regarding smoking, these devices have caused some very stressful situations and confrontations when used in a non-smoking public area of our hotels," the lodgers wrote in a letter to the council. They said the state of Minnesota banned the use of electronic smoking devices in state buildings and offices.

"It is well-documented that the ingredients of the oils and other chemicals used in these devices has not been studied enough to know their harm to others from the vapors emitted from the devices. It is also well-documented that not only nicotine, but controlled substances such as marijuana and hashish oils are commonly used in them. Though we know we have every right to individually set up our policies, it would be a great asset for the city of Baxter to adopt a smoking ban that would include electronic cigarettes as seven counties and 18 cities in Minnesota have added e-cigarettes to their clean indoor air policies."

ClearWay Minnesota reported cities adding e-cigarettes to ordinances regulating tobacco included Duluth, Mankato, Moorhead and Minneapolis.

Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said Crow Wing Energized is partnering with Centra Care in St. Cloud on this issue, and is eager to guide the city with draft ordinance and free legal advice if the city chooses to go in that direction.

Exsted said the state declined to make the e-cigarettes part of the indoor air act. It would be nice if the state guided the way as they did with traditional cigarettes but a small contingent of significantly sized cities are going to do it on their own.

Some banned use indoors and others included city parks in the ban, Kelly Steele, assistant city administrator reported.

City council member Quinn Nystrom asked how this would impact the police department in terms of enforcement. Exsted, using experience with the traditional tobacco and cigarette ban as a guide, said he thought it would be minimal. Exsted said he couldn't recall a single instance of policing at an area business. He noted the Crow Wing County Health Department, which was probably more robust than it is now, led the way.

Council member Steve Barrows supported the idea but wanted to see broader input from the business community as a whole. Council member Mark Cross pointed out the state considers the electronic smoking devices to be cigarettes.

Consensus from the council, which talked about the issue in a work session, was to develop an ordinance as other cities have. At the same time, council members wanted to connect to the business community to get civic input so they weren't acting on an ordinance without a robust dialog along the way.

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

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