County Board hears concerns about new methods of smoking

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP Fillmore County Public Health Director of Nursing Jessica Erickson and Public Health educator Brenda Pohlman present information on vaping to the county commissioners.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Fillmore County Director of Nursing Jessica Erickson and Fillmore County Public Health educator Brenda Pohlman appeared before the Fillmore County commissioners Tuesday afternoon during the Dec. 3 County Board meeting in an effort to stop the county’s residents’ futures from going up in vapors.

The pair brought with them a boxful of e-cigarettes and vaporized smoking accessories to show the commissioners what has become one of the most concerning trends in public health among students and young adults who choose to try — and become addicted to — vaporized nicotine and marijuana products.

Pohlman outlined for the gentlemen that it is “predominantly youth, but all across the age spectrum” who are experimenting with vaping, as a survey of students showed that some still start smoking conventional tobacco but that e-products, or “hookah,” have gained popularity because it is easier to hide than conventional cigarettes or chewing tobacco since there is less likelihood that parents or teachers will be able to spot such items that are typically marketed to look more innocent than they really are.

Commissioner Mitch Lentz wanted to know why there stands a discrepancy in the punishment system as related to vaping products and alcohol – why students who are discovered to be vaping aren’t sent to the county for punishment when those who are caught for minor consumption of alcohol are.

Pohlman reiterated that it is the very marketing to minors through disguising items as pens or thumb drives that has eluded teachers and parents.

Sheriff John DeGeorge was present, and Lentz asked him why alcohol infractions are enforceable when vaping is not.

DeGeorge replied, “It’s a lot more difficult to enforce this…if we stop them for speeding and smell alcohol, we can enforce it, but with vaping, we don’t see those violations easily. It’s not something that you can easily smell. This is a very difficult thing to enforce if we don’t have probable cause.”

Pohlman noted that often, flavored e-cigarette vapor chemicals smell different than what one would expect – more like air fresheners, body sprays and even fruit, numbering over 5,000 different flavors – so schools don’t search for the items due to the masking effect.

Commissioner Duane Bakke observed, “And they’re not impaired, so nobody thinks to look for it.”

“There are some detectors out there that can be hung in school bathrooms, but they’re not effective….in addition to vaping products, there are chewing products and edibles that are popular,” Pohlman said. “A survey of eighth graders found that they got it from their friends first, and then a family member, and third, from someone else.”

The educator remarked that youth like the technological aspect of e-cigarettes, tend to use menthol flavoring to cover the taste of tobacco, and that people who live in rural communities and those who live in poverty are more susceptible to the temptation of vaping. “You have to be 18 to buy cigarettes, chew or vaping products,” she said.

Commissioner Randy Dahl registered that school resource officers could make a difference for students, but that tobacco cessation funding the state received and applied toward advertising campaigns also made a difference in the number of students experimenting with tobacco of all kinds.

“We need ads that go out on the radio, TV and social media like the one with the egg and ‘This is your brain on drugs,’” he said.

The commissioners questioned how the county’s tobacco ordinance should be updated to address vaping, as it was last changed in 1996.

As the presentation came to its close, Pohlman talked about developments in the city of Rushford. Several local residents recently attended a council meeting to support an ordinance banning retail sales of vaping and electronic cigarettes (e-cigs), and menthol and flavored cigarettes, while also raising the age of clerks selling tobacco products to 18 years old and raising the age of people able to buy tobacco products to 21 years old.

She spoke about the growing number of deaths related to vaping – that there had been three in Minnesota in the past year and 2,290 nationwide.

Erickson added that tobacco and vaping are topics that would be voted upon as legislative priorities during the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) annual conference from Dec. 9 through 11.

Highway projects

Highway engineer Ron Gregg had a list of items for the board’s attention, beginning with awarding bridge replacements to bidders for local option sales tax (LOST) projects. The first project he presented was for County Road 101 in Jordan Township, recommending that Minnowa receive the job at its bid of $107,753.15, and also the County Road 104 bridge project in Pilot Mound Township at $169,826.85 and the Canton Township County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 30 bridge project at a cost of $247,780.95.

Scott Construction of Wisconsin was awarded the $1 million 2020 sealcoat bid for maintaining county road pavement surfaces.

He also sought approval for the purchase of a tandem-axle plow truck at state bid for $130,974 from Nuss Trucks and the board’s acceptance of an alternate means of selling the county’s existing truck because the trade-in value of the existing truck was only approximately $15,000, far below the amount he’d expected. Motions were made and passed for both items.

The board also chose to vote in favor of purchasing snowplow equipment from Universal Truck Equipment at a cost of $115,578.

Sheriff’s requests

DeGeorge registered salary requests for his position and that of Chief Deputy Lance Boyum, sharing with the board the goals that he and Boyum had set forth at the outset of their tenure last year – budgeting, emergency management, patrol scheduling changes, jail assessment planning and more. DeGeorge’s salary was set at $108,045, including a $6,000 stipend for emergency management duties, and Boyum’s was set at $92,712, using 95 percent of the average salaries of like positions in the region.

DeGeorge also asked that the board grant funding for equipping the new unmarked administrative car his department has purchased, totaling $3,290 for work done to get it road ready, and the commissioners obliged.

Other business

Human resources officer Kristina Kohn gave an update regarding the county assessor’s position, telling the commissioners that the candidate who had accepted the position had to decline for personal reasons and only for personal reasons, but that the county will continue to seek someone to fill its empty assessor’s position as soon as it is able to find someone who has the necessary qualifications required by the state.

The consent agenda included approving the minutes of the Nov. 26 board meeting. The next meeting will be held Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 9 a.m. as the final meeting of 2019 unless otherwise necessary.