Opinions vary on whether Gage County Jail inmates should be able to buy and use electronic cigarettes from the jail’s commissary. Sheriff Millard Gustafson says the program has been underway for about a month and it provides a way for the detention facility to earn revenue. County board member Dennis Byars says it sends a bad signal.
“Having an e-cigarette and having any kind of tobacco and nicotine influence in that jail is a horrible, terrible thing to do,” Byars says. “We talk about money? That’s all we’re talking about here. That’s what it will generate for the commisary. It’s not good for anybody’s health.”
Sheriff Gustafson says the e-cigarette, which emits water vapor not smoke, is not just about money for the facility, it’s about the inmates.
“It’s something to help calm them, to help with the staff,” Gustafson says. “It’s not necessarily a benefit for them. I didn’t realize it was such a hot topic. This is nothing new. Jails across the state and country are doing e-cigarettes.”
Supervisor Kathy Setzer says the county should not be in the business of making things more comfortable for those incarcerated. Board member Terry Jurgens doesn’t see the electronic cigarettes as a problem.
“Most of these people that are there probably do or have smoked and what it would be like to control them,” Jurgens says, “This should ease things, I think, a little bit.”
Gustafson says e-cigarettes are not federally regulated and a Nebraska county insurance pool has not taken a position on their use. No action was taken by the Gage County Board to ban the use of the electronic cigarettes in the detention facility.
Gustafson says he started the program after he saw the Washington County, Kansas, jail allowing the e-cigarettes without problems, for a long time.
By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice