Our Biggest Cancer Win is Threatened

By: Dr. Stanley Marks

Dr. Stanley Marks, chairman of the UPMC CancerCenter

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.

Smoking is no longer “normal,” and our youth smoking rates reflect that. High school smoking rates now hover at less than 6 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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