This week, the Allegheny County Council voted to ban e-cigarette use in public spaces, being the second county in Pennsylvania to do so. The practice of “vaping” is no longer permitted in offices and other indoor workplaces, schools, indoor sports and entertainment venues, health care facilities and bus and train stations. The vote passed with large support from the community and health experts from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Those in the e-cigarette trade have argued that vaping is a “safer” alternative to real tobacco cigarettes. They claim that vaping helps people to quit smoking, and argue that the exhaled vapor does not contain the same dangerous toxic gases as second hand tobacco smoke. However, doctors from the UPMC Cancer Center and other medical scientists who supported the ban cited a number of studies that indicate otherwise.
On the first claim, a study published in the January issue of Pediatrics strongly indicates that the use of e-cigarettes actually encourage young people to take up combustible tobacco cigarettes who might not otherwise have begun smoking at all. Another study sponsored by the Colorado Group to Alleviate Smoking Pollution (GASP) discovered that, far from being harmless, secondhand vapor contains no fewer than six toxic chemical substances known to be particularly harmful to human health. These include benzene (an ingredient found in gasoline), diethylene glycol (a solvent, also used in antifreeze), formaldehyde (an embalming fluid and known carcinogen), and of course, nicotine.
At this point, there are no studies offering conclusive proof that such levels of exposure have specific effects on health – but one prominent researcher believes that, given the toxicity, it is best to err on the side of caution. Dr. Brian Primack, an assistant professor at the UP School of Medicine, said, I don’t think we have the luxury of waiting.” Primack has conducted his own studies of e-cigarettes that have demonstrated not only the presence of deadly chemicals in vapor, but also provide evidence that e-cigarettes are indeed a “gateway” that leads young people to take up smoking tobacco. He adds, “We want to draw the line with what information we have now.”
That information includes measurements of vape chemicals in the bloodstream. Those levels are comparable to those found in patients suffering from diseases associated with secondhand tobacco smoke.
The Allegheny County ban passed 8 to 5 along party lines, and takes effect on March 20th.