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Beltrami County Commissioners tackle issue of e-cigarettes, seek comment from community

BEMIDJI — Vaping, it’s all the rage. Literally, people are outraged at the newest nicotine ingestion technique.

Beltrami County commissioners will hear how ignited or vapid the public feels on the topic in the next few weeks. The board unanimously voted to initiate a three reading process necessary to revise the county’s ordinance which governs use of tobacco and nicotine products. The process includes a public hearing.

Marti Lundin, Program Manager for the American Lung Association presented anti-electronic cigarette information during the commissioner’s work session on Tuesday. Lundin said there are several hundred kinds of e-cigarettes available that are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Users of e-cigarettes inhale a vapor, referred to as “vaping,” that does not produce second-hand smoke which is harmful to non-smokers. Lundin recognizes some people migrate to the e-cigarettes in attempt to quit smoking but, she said, there are no studies to prove it will work.

“It’s not a proven cessation device,” Lundin said.

Further, Lundin outlined the harmful effects of nicotine on the body such as birth defects, reproductive harm, increased heart rate and accelerated blood pressure. These points caused commissioners to question whether motives behind changing the ordinance infringe on civil rights.

During the regular board meeting, Commissioner Jim Lucachick, a former smoker, said he was in favor of beginning the hearing process without a heavy focus on the science, keeping true to the ordinance currently in place.

“The science isn’t there,”’ Lucachick said during the work session.

Commissioner Joe Vene agreed, saying the board is not looking at eliminating tobacco or nicotine device use, but regulating its use.

Commissioner Jack Frost said the board was getting conflicting messages from the public, stating only FDA approved liquids are approved, although the FDA has not yet regulated or tested all e-cigarette ingredients.

Matt Bewley, owner of Northern Vapes in Bemidji, said product sold in his store is made from FDA approved ingredients he only buys from reputable dealers out of Chicago and Buffalo, New York. However, all the ingredients have never been tested combined in one device and inhaled, he admitted. Bewley said an FDA study referenced during the work session was conducted four years ago on a product developed in China.

“I do not carry any Chinese electronic cigarette [ingredients or devices],” Bewley said.

Lundin admitted the long-term effects of vaping are not yet known. Which led to another concern — the effects on children. She passed around a “Hello Kitty” look-alike e-cigarette device and a bottle of lemon-blueberry-cotton candy “e-juice.”

“One concern among many of these emerging products (is)that (they are) are glamorizing use of nicotine and nicotine delivery systems,” said Pat McKone, Director of Mission Programs with the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest out of Duluth. Kids are being addicted to nicotine for a lifetime in a “flavorful, fun way,” McKone said.

When he opened his store, Bewley expected a clientele of 20 and 30-year-olds. Instead he’s seeing people in their 40s to 70s who are trying to quit smoking, he said.

“I don’t want to take it away from everybody,” Bewley said. “I understand there needs to be regulations, everything needs to be regulated to a certain point where it doesn’t harm people.”

Northern Vapes sells flavored liquids because, Bewley said, if a person doesn’t find something they like, they aren’t going to use it. Bewley himself quit smoking by vaping.

“These folks aren’t out on the street selling it to kids. They’re not marketing it at the high school to kids,” Lucachick said referring to Northern Vapes. “I don’t think we should try to control it more than what we’ve done with our cigarettes and other tobacco smoking.”

Revision to the ordinance is expected to include closing a sampling loophole for nicotine and e-cigarette use in public, licensing e-cigarettes the same as tobacco products and including e-cigarettes in the county’s tobacco ordinance.


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