Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson played the role of either comedian or devil’s advocate at a recent work session of the Guilford County Commissioners when Health Department officials were asking the board for tighter restrictions on tobacco use in county buildings.

Guilford County Assistant Health Director Dr. Iulia Vann was making the case for a need to ban electronic cigarettes and other electronic tobacco dispensation devices in county buildings when Branson came in with a question that took everyone by surprise in the packed Blue Room on the first floor of the Old Guilford County Court House.

“Did you take into consideration,” the chairman asked, “what kind of weight gain this may have on county employees if you do away with all these tobacco products?”

He paused and then continued: “Speaking from experience, I know what it can do to you – you gain more weight.”

When Branson asked his question and followed up with a comment, there was a rumble of light laughter in the room. Branson has a very dry delivery when he makes jokes, so many were unsure whether he was joking or making a serious point.

Vann took the question seriously.

“We want to promote the health of everybody utilizing the assisting programs such as nicotine patches and nicotine gum,” she said.

“Will that help with weight gain?” Branson pressed.

Vann pointed out to the chairman that the county is initiating new programs to help encourage exercise and maintain overall employee health.

Since 2009, Guilford County buildings have been smoke free. The proposed new rules would make county buildings tobacco free – that is, electronic cigs and similar devices would be banned.

Vann told the board that the proposed new tobacco rules would help make Guilford County’s rules consistent with those in other counties and the change would also help consolidate the county’s tobacco policy. Currently, the county has several written policies including the tobacco rules for use of the county’s fleet vehicles.

The Board of Commissioners is expected to vote on the suggested changes at an upcoming meeting.