Vaping is once again at the forefront of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, this time to reestablish that vaping should be banned on flights.
USA Today is reporting that the committee has voted 30-29 in favor in of a measure, introduced by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat representing Washington, D.C., that would ban vaping on all flights within the United States. Norton had produced a similar measure last year that was approved, but it never became law.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because this particular issue has already been legislated last year. The FAA and airlines both instituted regulation in April 2016 that prohibited not only carrying vape devices on domestic flights but also banned the use of vape devices with e-liquids that have nicotine in them on most flights.
While the regulation hadn’t completely banned vaping on all flights, there is currently no airline that operates in the United States that allows vaping onboard. This is perhaps because vaping can produce large clouds of vapor that can disturb other passengers, or because it made little sense to allow vaping but not smoking on flights.
Whatever the reason, the committee entertained discussion of this new measure on Tuesday, which would make the regulations already put in place by the Transportation Department into law.
The new law would complement the smoking ban that was instituted in 1990, which incorporated a blanket ban on smoking on all aircraft operating within the country. The final rule was made into law on June 4, 2000, and has been enforced since then. When vaping became mainstream in the early 2010s, most aircraft made it a rule to ban vaping on flights to stay consistent in their standards for onboard experiences.
Norton spoke about the need for the provision, telling her colleagues that “It is necessary to update our laws to reflect this new nuisance. Congress should institute a permanent statutory ban on the use of electronic cigarettes on planes, particularly considering the increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes.”
While it is true that vaping is becoming more mainstream, with more Americans turning to it as a smoking cessation method than ever before, choosing to ban it on flights when regulations are already in place to do that seems like overkill to many in the vape community. After all, since airlines are companies who institute their own regulations and who must follow the regulations dictated by the Transportation Department and the FAA, why put into place a law that has a result that is already present in society?
It could be, as Norton says, to ensure that Congress follows the lead of several different committees, departments, and agencies. Or it could be that perhaps anti-vaping advocates are pushing for the law so that should the Transportation Department or the FAA reverse the decision of the vaping ban, a federal law would keep the ban in place.
Whatever the case may be, Norton is pushing for the definition of smoking to be changed for aircraft. She wants it defined as “a device that delivers nicotine to a user of the device in the form of a vapor that is inhaled to simulate the experience of smoking.”
The panel heard the debate over the law, entertaining arguments from lawmakers who are for and against the provision.
While Norton argued for the law that she is sponsoring, Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, argued against it.
Death and Taxes noted that Hunter has earned the nickname “vaping Congressman” for his open use of a vape pen during a Transportation Committee meeting in February of last year. Hunter, who has acknowledged campaign contributions from some of the vape industry’s largest companies, has consistently argued against further damaging regulations for vaping, a move seen by many in politics as a lobbying take by a sitting member of Congress.
However, the same group of journalists and politicians who single out Hunter for his support of this burgeoning industry are simultaneously quiet about the fact that Norton has been bolstered the real estate and transportation industries since her election to office in 1989, both of which are opponents of the vape industry. The United Transportation Union has given Norton a total of $68,000 in that time; the National Association of Realtors, an unusual but strong supporter of anti-vaping legislation, has given $71,700.
The main crux of the debate is whether or not vape products that contain nicotine in them should be allowed on board at all.
For the vape community, this seems like an odd stance for a very good reason: many devices are open-ended, meaning that vapers purchase their vape mod and vape liquids separately. Because vape liquids can contain various levels of nicotine or have no nicotine in them at all, the ban on nicotine-only vape liquids and devices seems like a curious choice. FAA and TSA agents would be forced to look closely at all vape liquid bottles to ensure they are closed and do not contain nicotine before allowing it through to an aircraft. If they don’t, they would have to ban open-ended vape devices from all flights to ensure that only nicotine-free liquids and devices make it through security checks.
Hunter exhibited this dichotomy quite well. During his argument, the congressman took puffs from two vape devices; one contained nicotine and the other allegedly did not.
“This is not covered…under Ms. Norton’s amendment,” Duncan noted to his colleagues, holding up the device that contained zero nicotine. “That doesn’t make sense to me. Either say that an e-cigarette is illegal, whether it has nicotine or not in it.”
Hunter also pointed out what was covered earlier in this article: the Department of Transportation already bans the use of all vape devices on flights; in addition, flight attendants have the right to stop any passengers who attempt to vape from vaping onboard.
The provision passed by the margin of one vote and will be included in the House’s aviation bill. It is not yet known if the Senate will accept the amendment.
This publication will update readers on any changes to the DOT’s stance on vape devices and liquids.