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In a Heartbeat

How e-cigarettes affect the health of those around them

| Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Allegheny County Council's Committee on Health & Human Services held a hearing Monday night on a proposal to regulate electronic cigarettes in the county. Dr. Jonathan Spahr, pediatric pulmonologist with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, supports the regulation. We asked him to explain his reasoning.

Why are you in support of the regulation?

I have been taking care of children in Pittsburgh with lung disease for over 10 years. This regulation, which simply prevents vaping in public places where traditional smoking is already banned, would protect my patients' ability to breathe safely in public places like restaurants and at work.

What are the health concerns of second-hand vapor?

E-cigarette vapor contains potentially carcinogenic toxicants, like formaldehyde. This can be inhaled by bystanders, including children, as second-hand vapor. When my patients with lung disease breathe second-hand e-cigarette vapor, their lungs can become irritated. This could lead to hospitalization and make it more difficult to control asthma, cystic fibrosis and chronic lung disease.

Additionally, the e-cigarette solution contains toxic levels of nicotine and other substances that can be deadly if directly ingested, and each year hundreds of children are poisoned by it. In restaurants, the vaped solution disperses in the air and can land on food that is then eaten by people at neighboring tables.

What does the research on vaping say?

By allowing e-cigarettes to be smoked in public places where traditional cigarettes are banned, lawmakers are “renormalizing” the act of inhaling a toxicant in the manner one would smoke a cigarette. Impressionable children might see this as a normal activity when, in fact, it is unhealthy for the user and those around them. We know from research performed by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and elsewhere that e-cigarettes act as a “starter cigarette” for young people, who are much more likely to transition to smoking traditional cigarettes after using e-cigarettes.

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