E-cig vapors prompt health concerns, proposal

Maui County’s administration wants to outlaw electronic smoking devices at all county properties where tobacco smoking is prohibited.

“We’ve been getting a lot of complaints from employees and the public being in public places where other members of the public are using these devices and expelling the vapors,” said County Managing Director Keith Regan. “People question the impact to their health. There (are) health concerns that they are raising. In our county facilities, some employees have been using these ‘e-cig’ devices. Really, we have no way to control the usage of these devices, hence the desire to create a policy that treats it like a cigarette.”

On Friday, the Maui County Council referred the proposed policy from the county Department of Management to the council’s Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

In a letter to the council, Regan said the administration is seeking input on the policy, and if the council supports the policy, the Department of Management then will forward it to the county’s unions for review and input.

David Raatz, director of the Office of Council Services, said Monday that council staff still is in the process of analyzing the policy so it is not clear yet how the policy will be established. However, he said usually county policy is set by ordinance.

A spokesperson from the Hawaii Government Employees Association said it was unaware of the proposed policy and declined comment.

HGEA represents 922 county workers. A United Public Workers union spokesperson could not be reached for comment Monday. UPW also represents Maui County workers.

The policy would align with the Hawaii Smoke-Free Workplace and Public Places Law of 2006, which prohibited tobacco smoking in all enclosed or partially enclosed areas, including buildings and vehicles owned, leased or operated by the state or counties, according to the proposed policy. The smoke-free law and the proposed policy also say no one can smoke within 20 feet of entrances, exits, windows that open and ventilation intakes that serve enclosed or partially enclosed areas where smoking is prohibited.

The policy would apply to all county employees, visitors, volunteers, students, contract workers, delivery personnel and county permit holders.

For example, someone attending a party at a county community center may not use an e-cigarette device in the center, and neither can someone use the electronic devices near county pools. The proposed policy will not regulate electronic smoking devices on private property, Regan said.

“We really don’t know the impact of the vapors that are coming out of these cigarettes. We are kind of playing it safe, really,” Regan said.

E-cigarettes are devices that emit doses of vaporized nicotine that are inhaled, according to Medical News Today. The device is battery-operated and can also emit non-nicotine vaporized solutions. Manufacturers say the devices are an alternative for tobacco smokers who want to avoid inhaling smoke.

However, Regan said that the U.S Food and Drug Administration is looking into the impact of the vapors. He added that the state Department of Health has established rules that ban electronic smoking devices in its offices. The Maui County policy “kind of duplicates” what the Health Department has implemented internally, Regan said.

The proposed policy notes that an FDA report said that samples of e-cigarettes from two leading manufacturers tested positive for nicotine and detectible levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals, including tobacco-specified nitrosamines and diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used in antifreeze.

Regan said the county wants to be sure it protects the health of employees.

The proposed policy says that county employees who violate the e-cigarette policy during work hours may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including discharge. It also says that users of county facilities who violate the policy may be asked to leave the premises and have user permits revoked.

Optimistically, the policy could take effect in about six months, Regan said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.