Baxter looks into e-cig ban options

BAXTER - Should electronic or e-cigarettes be treated the same as traditional cigarettes? That's a question Baxter has considered since seven lodging establishments sought help from the city in July. Representatives from seven lodging establishme...

BAXTER - Should electronic or e-cigarettes be treated the same as traditional cigarettes?

That's a question Baxter has considered since seven lodging establishments sought help from the city in July.

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. At the time, the lodging representatives 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, which can lead to confrontations and stressful, emotionally charged situations.

The Minnesota Department of Health defines e-cigarettes as battery-powered devices allowing users to inhale aerosolized liquid, "which may contain nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals." The Food and Drug Administration reported e-cigarettes have not been fully studied to know potential risks.

"When FDA conducted limited laboratory studies of certain samples, FDA found significant quality issues that indicate that quality control processes used to manufacture these products are substandard or non-existent," the government agency reported in a consumer update posted on its website. The "FDA found that cartridges labeled as containing no nicotine contained nicotine and that three different electronic cigarette cartridges with the same label emitted a markedly different amount of nicotine with each puff."


To date, e-cigarettes are prohibited in some schools, universities, and government and health-care facilities. Retailers cannot sell e-cigarettes to minors and retailers must be licensed.

According to information presented to the Baxter City Council last week, 12 counties and 23 cities in the state added e-cigarettes to clean indoor air policies with about 52 percent of Minnesotans covered by those regulations.

Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce president, was before the Baxter City Council last week providing information on sample ordinances from the Public Health Law Center that regulate e-cigarettes and giving the council feedback gleaned from a survey on the subject tailored to Baxter businesses. Kilian passed along the information and said if the city wants to enact an ordinance, the recommendation is to have the least restrictive one. Another concern, Kilian said, is any disparity between neighboring cities in favor of consistency as he noted the line between Brainerd and Baxter is pretty thin. Consistency is valued, Kilian said.

Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said several years ago, this was the discussion with cigarettes as businesses looked to the state to make a law covering everyone and while it took time, that is what happened. Olson was told there isn't a similar push currently at the state level, beyond the existing bans affecting schools, government buildings and health-care facilities.

Olson witnessed a man who started smoking an e-cigarette at the Minneapolis Heart Institute who refused to put his device out after being initially asked by institute staff. That type of action was reported by the lodging establishments.

Council member Steve Barrows said the big fuming cloud is a disrespect issue that is making it more difficult between the e-cigarette industry and the public.

Police Chief Jim Exsted said he appreciated the opportunity to work with the chamber and look for direction.

There were several options for ordinances governing e-cigarettes. Council member Quinn Nystrom provided a Baltimore model, which gives businesses the choice of whether to allow e-cigarettes or opt out of a ban as long as the business is posted to notify patrons. Exsted was asked if having some businesses with the ban and some without would add to enforcement headaches. Exsted said he'd like to learn more about Baltimore's ordinance but the department would respond based on whatever the city council enacted. He likened it to the way some dealt with firearms.


Council member Todd Holman asked if Brainerd was wrestling with the same issue as it seemed there would be value to the two cities thinking about e-cigarettes in the same way. Kilian said the survey used for business feedback, which had some in favor of a ban and some against, was specific to Baxter businesses. Kilian said while Baxter results were split, he wasn't sure Brainerd would have the same result. Holman suggested exploring a conversation with Brainerd would be worthwhile before making a decision.

Nystrom recommended exploring the issue with Crow Wing County as well. She met with businesses selling e-cigarettes and said she thought it was important to allow those businesses to allow patrons to sample product in the stores. Exsted said early consideration was to allow existing businesses to be grandfathered in so they could continue if a ban was enacted.

Council member Mark Cross was in favor of an e-cigarette ban just as traditional smoking was banned in buildings.

"I have no problem putting it out there," Cross said, adding he wasn't going to change his opinion based on what other cities or the county does. In fact, he said, the state should do it. Cross said he was taking stock of the businesses that already asked for the ban and hasn't seen proof the e-cigarettes aren't putting out the same amount of nicotine. Cross noted it can be a tool for smokers to quit but the small number of people who are belligerent about using e-cigarettes indoors in public spaces are ruining it for those who are using them for good.

"Enough is enough," Cross said.

Olson said he tended to agree with Cross but wanted to have a few months to look into the options.

"It's a tough one," Olson said. "We agonized over this with the ban on cigarettes, too."

Olson said e-cigarette smokers could step outside to smoke.


Barrows said he'd like to see greater community involvement and input.

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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