Vaping ban in public spaces, workplaces a step closer in Allegheny County
The Allegheny County Board of Health voted unanimously Wednesday to ban vaping indoors in public places and workplaces countywide in a sweeping regulation of e-cigarettes that mimics existing rules on the conventional tobacco-filled kind.
“I'm blown away,” said Marc Conn, 30, co-owner of Steel City Vapors in Castle Shannon and Monroeville. “An elected board of officials are telling private business owners what they can and can't do in their business, even though they have absolutely no facts proving that these have negative consequences.”
Conn, who says he quit smoking conventional cigarettes five years ago on the day he tried an e-cigarette, joined several pro-vaping speakers urging the board to vote down the ban, which they believe unfairly treats vapers the same as traditional smokers.
“To any smoker in the room who quit smoking, I totally applaud your efforts,” health department director Dr. Karen Hacker told the audience shortly before the vote.
“I don't really think that the regulations that we are proposing in any way demonize vaping,” Hacker continued, noting the health department would support vaping as a safer alternative to smoking if vaping “proves to be a well-examined strategy for smoking cessation.”
The ban — which must be approved by county council — would prohibit inhaling, exhaling or using e-cigarettes or vapor products in enclosed workplaces, eateries, schools, health care-related properties, sports facilities, theaters, transit stations and vehicles used for mass transportation. In line with Pennsylvania's Clean Indoor Air Act, facilities that allow traditional cigarette smoking such as bars, private clubs and tobacco shops that don't serve food would be exempt.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, through his spokeswoman Amie Downs, declined comment.
“If you put us with smokers, that's like putting someone in an (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting in a bar,” said Amy Crivella, 37, owner of East Coast Vapes in Cranberry. “They're not treating us like we're trying to quit.”
E-cigarette users heat flavored liquids containing varying levels of nicotine with battery-operated devices. The trend has increased in controversy and popularity over the past several years. Advocates insist vaping is safer than tobacco cigarettes and view it as a way to help people quit smoking, but public health agencies have questioned its safety and unregulated nature.
Erika Fricke, health policy director for Allies for Children, testified she believes the ban does not keep vapers from experiencing the potential benefits of e-cigarettes.
“Rather, they're saying, ‘OK, we do not as a culture want to take a step backward in public spaces and allow e-cigarettes in a place where cigarettes are not currently allowed to be smoked,” said Fricke, who expressed concerns over indoor vaping “normalizing” the use of tobacco products and threatening to get young kids addicted to nicotine.
“I don't want my children or the children of Allegheny County to see e-cigarette smoking in places where cigarette smoking is banned, and neither do I want them to be exposed to the second-hand vapors from e-cigarettes when we don't yet know the impacts on their health.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.