Smokers trying to kick the habit by using so-called "electronic cigarettes," which don't produce smoke but do provide a nicotine jolt, are now prohibited from using the devices in Riverside County-owned-and- operated buildings under a policy approved today by the Board of Supervisors.
In a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Jeff Stone absent, the board amended the county's anti-smoking policy to include "electronic nicotine delivery systems," making it unlawful for anyone to use them inside or within the immediate vicinity of a county structure.
"I don't want an employee to come into my office and puff on these," said Supervisor Marion Ashley before casting his vote. "If they want to go outside, that's fine ... We need to keep this out of the workplace."
The Department of Human Resources recommended the ban based on concerns that e-cigarettes haven't been proven to be risk-free to non-smokers.
HR documents noted that the devices contain a "complex mixture of chemicals," including diluted nicotine, that, when aerosolized, could affect someone other than the user.
"The second-hand nicotine could settle on surfaces when exhaled," said HR Safety Manager Michael Bowers. "There is a possibility of exposure."
Interim county Health Officer Cameron Kaiser said he had "great concern" about the use of e-cigarettes because of the many unknowns surrounding the battery-operated products, which county HR officials said are manufactured primarily in China.
Supervisor John Benoit, along with Chairman John Tavaglione, questioned whether the county might be overreaching in prohibiting something that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not bothered to regulate.
"After giving it some thought, I don't think there's a lot of evidence that this affects anybody except perhaps the user," Benoit said. "The devices have been useful in helping people quit smoking in some cases."
Supervisor Bob Buster said it was better to "err on the side of caution" and include e-cigarettes in the county's anti-smoking policy.
HR chief Barbara Olivier emphasized that the amended policy would not stop people from using e-cigs; they would just have to go to designated smoking areas outside county buildings, like other smokers.
Benoit and Tavaglione were won over.
Under the policy, violators could be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination, according to HR documents.