Nearly 600 counties and municipalities across the nation have enacted restrictions on e-cigarettes and other forms of vaping in existing smoke-free public venues, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.
Allegheny County could soon join that list.
Philadelphia is the only Pennsylvania municipality that has a local ordinance for smoke-free areas and it only prohibits vaping in restaurants. Allegheny County Council is now considering legislation proposed by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald that would extend the county’s broad smoking ban to include vaping.
Fitzgerald, a member of council at the time, was the sponsor of the smoking ban ordinance that took effect in January 2007.
“It was very contentious at that time,” Fitzgerald said.
The ordinance prohibits smoking in most public venues including workplaces, schools, libraries, museums, theaters, restaurants and bars at which food service accounts for more than 10 percent of their revenues. It also includes hotels, though they are permitted to set aside 25 percent of their rooms for smoking.
“Right now it does it seems kind of innocuous," Fitzgerald said. "You think, 'Well, you shouldn't be able to smoke anywhere.'"
In December, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a warning that the use of e-cigarettes poses a public health threat. According to the report, in 2015, nearly one in six high school students had used an e-cigarette at least once in the last 30 days.
With the numbers of users continues to grow, Fitzgerald said he believes it’s logical to extend the county smoking ban to include vaping.
“Secondhand vaping can be just as dangerous as secondhand smoke,” Fitzgerald said.
A 2014 study published by the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health indicated that vaping has a second-hand impact. It found that while the vapor does not contain the same levels of nicotine and other toxic compounds, the vapor does have ultrafine particles that can be embedded in the lungs and cause respiratory troubles.
Supporters of vaping have argued that it’s a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes.
“That's a very positive thing. But that doesn't mean you should be able to do it in the restaurant or in the public space where you're impeding other people's ability to breathe clean air,” Fitzgerald said.
The county executive said his legislation was crafted based on public hearings and study of available research by the Health Department, and that he isn’t sure what, if any, changes council will make or pass it at all.
“I'm sure they're going to hold hearings bring testimony in from experts around the effects of secondhand vaping and what effect that will have," Fitzgerald said. "So it remains to be seen where this ends up.”