Nearly two-thirds of those who spoke at an Allegheny County Council public hearing Monday night came out against expanding the ban on smoking in public places to include e-cigarettes.
The expansion was approved by the Allegheny County Board of Health, but still must be approved by the county council and signed by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has said he is in favor of the expansion.
Before the 23 speakers were allowed to give their testimony, council members heard from a panel of eight experts on the subject of vaping.
Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said e-cigarettes help people stop smoking and that a ban of the devices in places where smoking is also banned would be counter productive.
“For too many people in tobacco control, ideology trumps public health,” Conley said. “This is an unnecessary intrusion into the choice of business owners to allow or disallow these products.”
The science on the dangers of secondhand vapor is not yet settled with well-known health organizations publishing papers on both sides.
Elizabeth Miller, chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at UPMC Children’s Hospital, took a different approach.
“If we allow e-cigarettes and vaping in a different category, the message that we’re sending to young people is that e-cegarettes are kinda, sorta, OK," she said. "They’re kinda in that special place and they’re kinda, sorta cool."
Speaker Zeba Ahmed also avoided the debate over the science.
“I have hay fever and a I have a very sensitive repertory system," she said. "One time, I was on the T and someone directly in front of me started vaping and I found it very uncomfortable."
Tracy Rapport spoke against the expansion of the ban which also includes a ban on children entering vape shops.
“People who have switched to vaping should not be forced into smoking sections. They quit smoking because they don’t want to expose themselves or their loved ones to deadly secondhand smoke,” Rapport said. “This ban punishes people who made a big step towards quitting.”
Others testified that extending smoking bans to include e-cigarettes would encourage former smokers to return to smoking by putting them back into contact with the smoke.
Vaping is not as satisfying as smoking, said Saul Shiffman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's department of psychology, so they need to have an additional incentive to not smoke.
The ordinance will next go to the council’s Health and Human Services Committee for a vote.
Council members asked Allegheny County Solicitor Andrew Szefi for an opinion on the possibility that the proposed ordinance would run afoul of the state’s smoking ban.
“If vaping were preempted and it was already included in the definition of smoking, it would already be banned in the same places cigarettes are," he said. "And we know that the state has taken no measures to enforce a ban in such places."
Councilman Ed Kress also voiced concern that it could be struck down by a court if it prevented medical marijuana users from taking the drug in public places. Szefi said that should not be a problem.