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Allegheny County Health Board Bans Indoor Vaping

Richard Pedroncelli

The Allegheny County Board of Health has placed e-cigarettes under nearly all of the same regulations as traditional cigarettes when it comes to use indoors. The vote Wednesday came after a series of speakers asked for the policy to be rejected.

Former smoker Dale Ray spoke in opposition to the regulations. He said he had diminished lung function due to his smoking habit. He said tried to quit smoking several times but it never stuck until he tried e-cigarettes.

“After three or four weeks I began to notice that I was breathing better and not coughing constantly,” Ray said. “To impose a ban on indoor vaping, you’re forcing me to stand outside with smokers, causing me to breathe and smell the foul second-hand smoke, which has been proven to be bad for people.”

Allegheny County Department of Health Director Karen Hacker praised those who had quit by using e-cigarettes, but said they are still not completely safe.

Opponents of the ban said they are worried that being exposed to smokers will cause vape users to go back to traditional cigarettes.

“I think a lot of the focus of the industry has been the potential for good among individuals,” said Board of Health Chair Lee Harrison after the 6-0 vote with one abstention. “But that’s not what we’re addressing here today. We’re addressing the second hand, passive smoking that happens with E-cigarettes.”

Among other studies, the county cited research from the Surgeon General and the CDC that shows second-hand vapor could be a health risk. 

However, speakers like Richard Marino, who owns a vape shop, said the county’s data is no good. He said he also has data from reputable sources that prove there is no health threat from second-hand vapors. The New York Times just released an article this week saying that vaping is far less risky than smoking cigarettes. A scientist with the antismoking group the Truth Initiative told the newspaper that health officials’ message that vaping is dangerous means Americans, “have missed, or are missing, the greatest opportunity in a century,” to deter cigarette smokers.

Harrison said he still believes “there’s enough evidence that we should keep people who don’t want to be exposed to the products from being exposed.”

Vape shop owner and former cigarette smoker Kate Conn chastised the Board of Health for its decision.

“You should be embarrassed that you received over 400 unopposed letters in opposition of this ban and completely disregarded every single one without explanation,” Conn said. “You should be ashamed that you are forcing people outside, back to the poison that held the prisoner for years and putting out false studies to turn people away from vaping.”

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