CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The Bradley County Sheriff's Office has received the green light to stock electronic cigarettes in the jail commissary.
The Bradley County Commission voted 11-2 on Monday to amend the county's policy against the use of tobacco products and "vaping" devices in county buildings so as to allow the jail to sell e-cigarettes to inmates.
"I believe [selling e-cigarettes to inmates] would be a good thing to thwart potential aggression, and I believe it will be a money-maker, as well," said Commission Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber, who sponsored the measure.
Commissioner Mike Hughes, who voted against the policy amendment along with Commissioner Mark Hall, said he simply wanted to have e-cigarette sales data from other correctional facilities and more information about potential health concerns.
In early May, county commissioners met with Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson and his command staff to discuss the benefits of allowing inmates to buy e-cigarettes from the jail commissary.
"Jails across the state are allowing e-cigs to be sold to their inmates, and there's a lot of money to be made," Watson said during that meeting.
The Bradley County Sheriff's Office has the potential to earn between $96,000 and $120,000 per year on those sales, based on e-cigarette sales trends at other correctional facilities, he said.
Capt. Gabe Thomas of the Corrections and Judicial Services Division told commissioners that allowing inmates to use e-cigarettes would help reduce tensions associated with sudden nicotine withdrawal.
Inmates would be restricted to using the devices in the recreation yard, Watson said.
The benefit of possibly reducing the anxiety level of nicotine-using inmates made the measure worth it, Commissioner Dan Rawls said.
"There's enough problems when you're in that type of jail environment," Rawls said. "If this will relieve some of that, I think it's worthwhile."
Commissioner Terry Caywood, who supported the e-cigarette policy amendment, voiced concern over possible health-related liability resulting from allowing inmates to use the devices.
"There's always liability -- or can be liability -- from any products that you use at the jail, especially one that you don't know what the ramifications for it are," County Attorney Crystal Freiberg said.
"Until there is hard evidence that there is a risk, the liability is probably minimal," she said.
Chief Deputy Brian Smith has said that revenue from e-cigarette jail commissary sales could be used to purchase safety vests, defibrillators or other department needs.
The sheriff's office plans to sell e-cigarettes on a trial basis before determining exactly what specific needs those revenues could fund, Yarber said.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.