During an Allegheny County Council public hearing held earlier this month, more than 30 people spoke both for and against a proposed regulation that would prevent people from using electronic cigarettes (commonly called e-cigarettes or vaping) in public places or inside facilities.
Supporters of the regulation argued that vaping could be a gateway for users – especially teens – to start smoking cigarettes, and also exposes bystanders to the dangers of secondhand e-cigarette smoke. Those against the regulation cited a risk of vapers going back to smoking cigarettes because of their increased exposure to tobacco smokers and claimed that vaping helps smokers quit.
“E-cigarettes help with cessation.”
A study on the association of e-cigarettes with quitting found the odds of quitting cigarettes to be 28 percent lower in vapers compared to those who didn’t use e-cigs.
Dr. Elizabeth Miller, chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, helps bust a few more myths about e-cigarettes.
“E-cigarettes are safe.”
Nicotine, even at low exposure levels, has negative and permanent effects on the adolescent brain as it relates to cognitive functions, such as thinking straight and learning. It also primes the brain for future substance use by inducing epigenetic changes (changes in the genes). Research finds this to be evident because the adolescent brain is developing and reorganizing so rapidly.
“E-cigarettes have therapeutic value.”
Suggestions of nicotine having therapeutic value to individuals with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were also addressed in the hearing. Although people with serious mental illnesses are more likely to smoke cigarettes than the general population, nicotine is not considered a medication for use in treating these disorders. There’s also no supporting evidence that not being permitted to use e-cigarettes in public places would have a greater impact on a users’ access to nicotine than what already exists.
Despite e-cigarettes being marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes or aiding in smoking cessation, regulatory authorities haven’t accepted either of these claims and little is actually known yet about the health risks of vaping.
The Allegheny County Council’s Health and Human Services Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposed legislation on Wednesday. It could then be sent to the full council for consideration. The meeting will be held at 4 p.m. in Conference Room 1 at the Allegheny County Courthouse, 436 Grant St., Pittsburgh.
Dr. Jonathan Spahr, pediatric pulmonologist, explains why he supports the proposed Allegheny County e-cigarette regulation.
In advance of Monday’s Allegheny County Council Committee on Health & Human Services’ consideration of a proposed regulation to bring laws regarding e-cigarettes in line with traditional smoking laws, the 39-member UPMC CancerCenter and University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Council wrote a letter to council in strong support of the regulation.
In an effort to better explain the UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter Council’s stance, council members are making their letter public. The council is made up of leaders in the region who advise and support the executive management of UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter in advancing the understanding of cancer, developing innovative methods of cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment, and providing state-of-the-art cancer care. Protecting people against cancer is their priority, and the proposed Allegheny County e-cigarette regulation is in line with that goal.
Do you agree with the UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter Council’s support for these regulations? Contact Allegheny County Council before Feb. 6 to make your support heard.
One of the cancer community’s biggest “wins” in the past decade has been shifting public attitudes about smoking cigarettes. It’s now widely viewed as an unpleasant activity that isn’t appropriate in most indoor public settings.
E-cigarettes threaten that hard-earned victory, and that’s why we need the Allegheny County Council to pass the regulation proposed by its health experts to limit e-cigarette use in public indoor spaces.
The regulation before the council doesn’t ban the use of e-cigarettes by adults. It simply gives reasonable protection to people who don’t wish to be exposed to the toxins emitted by these cigarette-mimicking devices and, in turn, limits the renormalization of smoking.
My colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that nonsmokers who started smoking e-cigarettes were nearly four times as likely as their peers who didn’t vape to start smoking traditional cigarettes within the next year – even when they had responded “definitely no” when previously asked if they would smoke a traditional cigarette.
We believe this is, in part, because the act of vaping is so similar to smoking and the nicotine so addictive that the act of smoking is being renormalized. Young people also report being attracted to e-cigarettes due to the fruit flavors, the perception that they are safe and the permissiveness of policies. This is why policy holes need to be filled by the proposed regulation.
In addition, studies have shown that e-cigarettes do give off toxins – possibly as many or even more than regular cigarettes. And, they are definitely associated with second-hand toxin inhalation.
County residents and their children shouldn’t have to inhale e-cigarette toxins when they go out to eat or watch a movie, and they certainly shouldn’t have to inhale it in their workplaces.
I support the proposed e-cigarette regulation before Allegheny County Council, and I ask that anyone who feels similarly contact their council members and voice support.
Dr. Marks is chairman of the UPMC CancerCenter