Unicoi County sheriff dumps idea of e-cigs for jail inmates

Brad Hicks • Nov 1, 2013 at 2:52 PM

ERWIN — Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said Thursday that the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department has decided to extinguish its efforts to introduce electronic cigarettes to Unicoi County inmates.

At its Monday night meeting, the county commission opted to table its consideration of an agreement that could have led to the sheriff’s department being allowed to sell electronic cigarettes to inmates in the county’s jail facilities. Hensley said due to concerns raised by commissioners at the meeting, his department will not pursue the proposal and that he has already contacted the county mayor’s office to ask that it not be placed on a future commission agenda.

Concerns brought up by commissioners included questions over liability from an inmate health standpoint and whether the devices could possibly be fashioned into weapons.

“I looked at it in more depth, and there were some questions raised that I had to seriously look at,” Hensley said.

Hensley said his department requested the commission’s consideration of the measure as sheriff’s department officials felt the electronic cigarettes would not only “calm” inmates craving nicotine but would also potentially generate revenue for the county.

“My department had been in contact with other departments doing this, and some good, positive comments were made about these cigarettes,” Hensley said. “It did calm the inmates down and was a source of revenue for their counties.”

Hensley said inmates would likely not look to manufacture weapons from the devices, as the program would have required inmates wanting to purchase a new electronic cigarette to return the previously used one intact.

Still, Hensley described introducing the e-cigarettes into the county’s jails as a “double-edged sword.” While he said there is no documentation stating that electronic cigarettes are not a safe alternative to smoking, there is none stating they are.

“I don’t want to do anything to harm anybody,” he said.

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