Allegheny County is in the US State of Pennsylvania. It has a population of over 1.2 million, and is the county seat of Pittsburgh. Last Monday, the Allegheny County Board of Health held a public hearing to help decide if there should be a ban on the indoor use of e-cigarettes. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, fifteen people testified, and what happened is a microcosm of the debate that is taking place in the United States and across other parts of the world - including the UK.
First to speak was Ryan Huntermark. The 21 year-old told the hearing that he started smoking at the age of 14. Mr Huntermark said he gave up smoking thanks to e-cigarettes, claims to be healthier than he was and has lost a 100 pounds in weight.
Next to speak was Bill Godshall, executive director of Smokefree Pennsylvania. He thinks that an indoor ban on vaping would be counterproductive and said the proposed ban "“demonises vaping" and "stigmatises vapers.” He also commented on the impressive statistic that 7.4 million smokers in the United States have given up smoking through vaping.
So far, so good, but despite the evidence so far that vaping is something that should be welcomed, Brian Primack, a University of Pittsburgh professor of medicine, was not convinced. He claims to have studied e-cigarettes for ten years. You can imagine how impressive that must have sounded to members of the County Board of Health! He said, "Believe me, I want to help my patients stop smoking, but we don’t understand e-cigarette emissions yet." What? From a man who has supposedly studied e-cigarettes for ten years? What has he been doing with his time - twiddling his thumbs as he accumulates more grant money?
Citing three sources, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) said the following in a recent report:
"...current evidence shows that levels of nicotine and contaminants released via exhaled vapour are negligible"
POST would not have said this unless they were sure of their facts and sure that those they were citing were thorough in their research. I take Mr Primack's testimony will a huge pinch of salt, but will the Allegheny County Board of Health?
The punishments that will be meted out if the new law is passed are pretty draconian, to say the least. The Pittsburgh Press-Gazette states that "a first conviction would be punishable by a fine of $30 to $300 or 10 to 30 days in jail. A second conviction increases the punishment to a fine of $500 to $1,000 or imprisonment of up to a year." They don't do things by halves in Allegheny County! The punishments appear to be a cross between a money making racket and a job creation scheme for prison guards.
I am not saying that such over the top punishments are ever likely in the UK. Thankfully, we do seem to have a sense of proportion this side of the pond, but with Wales set to look again at the possibility of an indoor vaping ban, it is not inconceivable that such as ban may be proposed for the whole of the UK.
Will Parliamentarians listen to the voices of former smokers who have quit smoking through vaping? Will they listen to people like Bill Godshall from Smokefree Pennsylvania? I have differences of opinion with him when it comes to smoking bans, but he does appear to get it when it comes to vaping. Or will they listen to people like Brian Primack? I don't think this man knows what he's talking about, and to prove that point, he also thinks an e-cigarette isn't better than a nicotine patch when it comes to helping people give up smoking. I know what worked better for me, and I imagine a clear majority of those reading this article who are former smokers thanks to vaping will agree with me.
As I said at the beginning, what is happening right now in Allegheny County is a microcosm of the debate happening elsewhere. If you don't want an indoor ban in the UK, join our campaign to make sure it doesn't happen.