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COMMENTARY: E-cigarettes are a public health concern

By Sandy Tubbs, Horizon Public Health administrator, Alexandria, MN

On Monday evening, the Alexandria City Council considered and approved the second reading of an ordinance amendment that prohibits the use of e-cigarettes in public places, consistent with current laws regulating tobacco use in public places. First of all, thank you to council members Benson, Kuhlman and Osterberg for their continued support of this amendment.

During the course of the council's discussion of this proposed amendment, council member Jensen verbalized criticism of Horizon Public Health, its mission, and its staff, stating that, among other things, the issue of indoor use of e-cigarettes is not a health issue and that Horizon Public Health is "eating away at people's rights." I cannot help but respond to those suggestions.

The fact is that while there has not yet been adequate time to fully quantify the potential adverse health impacts that may result from exposure to e-cigarette vapors, early research studies do suggest that the vapors contain some level of carcinogens that may pose a health risk to those sharing air space. So the use of e-cigarettes in public places really is a health-related issue and therefore, an issue of concern for public health officials.

Councilman Jensen further suggested that Horizon Public Health, in advocating for the adoption of this amendment, is infringing on individual rights. The fact is that one of the core principles of Public Health is that we advocate for policies that protect the rights and the well-being of the population. In this case, Public Health is advocating for the rights of all of those that chose not to inhale the vapors from e-cigarettes. When the choices of an individual infringe on the rights of the public, it is very much the responsibility of our elected officials to adopt policies that support the health and well-being of the general population. And it is the responsibility of Horizon Public Health to provide information to the elected officials to assure that our elected officials have accurate and thorough information from which to make their decision.

Horizon Public Health's mission is, in part, to "create an environment that promotes the health and improves the well-being of all people." I stand behind that mission and I stand behind Amy Reineke and the staff whose job is to work with community partners to implement that mission. I believe that the residents of Alexandria, and the visitors to our community, also rely on our elected officials to establish policies that support the health and well-being of the people.