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By Caroline Downs
Tobacco Free North Dakota Executive Director Erin Oban-Hill intended to deliver a brief presentation to the Kenmare Safe Communities Coalition during the organization’s June meeting, but concern about electronic cigarettes led to an intense discussion.
Oban-Hill happened to mention e-cigarettes briefly as she described her work during the 2013 North Dakota legislative session. She noted TFND wanted to see a higher tobacco tax in North Dakota and to address concerns about the use of smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes.
Most of the Kenmare Safe Communities members had never seen an e-cigarette. Oban-Hill passed around two in their original packaging, and pointed out how the items do not contain tobacco but do contain nicotine. “Tobacco companies are buying e-cigarette companies,” she said. “That should tell you something. This is tobacco-free, but it’s still full of the addictive ingredient.”
The warning label on the package stated the electronic cigarette was not sold as a tobacco cessation product, that it was not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, and that it was not intended for use by children under the age of 18.
However, First District Health Unit Tobacco Prevention Coordinator Holly Brekhus compared e-cigarettes to energy drinks in terms of regulation. “They put this information on warning labels for liability reasons, but who’s monitoring that?” she asked. “There are no laws about who can buy these in North Dakota, and [the companies] are marketing to kids. It’s easy to get.”
Members of the Safe Communities group expressed outrage that e-cigarettes could be sold so easily to persons under the age of 18 in North Dakota. “This is definitely something to have regulated in the state,” said FDHU Public Health Nurse Melissa Burud, “and definitely something to educate people about.”
Take Back Program
Members of the group addressed their ongoing concern about prescription drug abuse and discussed possibilities for offering a Drug Take Back single event or full-fledged program in Kenmare to reduce the amount of unused drugs stored in households.
According to Brekhus, the program could be similar to one started earlier this year in Renville County, where unused prescription drugs can be deposited by individuals in a locked container housed at the sheriff’s office.
Brekhus noted that if narcotics were included, a law enforcement agency would have to be involved. She also said former Kenmare resident Amber Jensen, now with the North Dakota Department of Human Services, had contacted her about coordinating the program in Kenmare.
“I think we should pursue it,” said Burud. “Would it be feasible to make it permanent?”
Brekhus said she would contact the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation for more information and regulations about establishing the program.
Next meeting July 11th
The next meeting of the Kenmare Safe Communities organization will be held Thursday, July 11, beginning 11 am at the Kenmare One Stop Burger Shop.
All community and area residents are welcome to attend the meeting.
For further information about the Kenmare Safe Communities coalition, contact Melissa Burud at 701-385-4328 or Holly Brekhus at 701-852-1376.