Norton Amendment Banning Use of E-Cigarettes and Other Electronic Smoking Devices on Airplanes Passes Committee

Feb 11, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), a senior Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, today got one of the few Democratic amendments passed during the committee markup of a controversial bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.  Norton’s amendment would prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices for smoking on airplanes.  Her amendment passed with a bipartisan vote of 33-26 after a spirited debate, which included Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) pulling out his own vaporizer and taking a puff.

“I am surprised by the strong margin by which my amendment passed, but I introduced it by reminding Members that nearly 30 years ago we banned smoking on airplanes,” Norton said.  “Despite the best efforts of Representative Hunter, who came equipped with his vaping device and demonstrated its use, Members were not impressed enough to defeat my amendment.  The Member sitting next to Rep. Hunter even fanned away the smoke emitted from the vaporizer, illustrating my point about second-hand smoke.  On a serious note, though, I reminded Members of the countless lives lost after it took us decades to ban smoking on airplanes and elsewhere and asked that there be no repeat of such a delay on electronic cigarettes and vaping devices.”

Norton first introduced this provision as a standalone bill last October after the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a rule prohibiting passengers and crewmembers from carrying battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices in checked baggage, which did not ban the use of these vaping devices on airplanes.  Norton said these devices pose significant fire and health risks to airplane passengers. Norton said that although some individual airlines have banned the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices on airplanes, a federal ban is necessary to cover all airlines.

Below is Norton’s full statement introducing the amendment.


FEBRUARY 11, 2016

My amendment prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices on commercial airplanes by including use of these devices within the definition of smoking.  Smoking tobacco products on commercial airplanes has been banned for years, but with the increase in use of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices, it is necessary to update our laws to reflect this new nuisance and health risk on airplanes.  The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in 2011 to ban the use of these devices on commercial airplanes, but four years later, no progress has been made.  DOT issued a rule in October banning e-cigarettes from checked bags, but DOT has not taken the additional step of banning the use of e-cigarettes on airplanes.  Therefore, Congress should step in to legislatively resolve this issue, particularly considering the increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes. 

Electronic cigarette use has increased over the last decade with the increased education of the general public about the dangers and public health threats caused by traditional cigarettes to smokers and nonsmokers alike.  For example, between 2010 and 2011, e-cigarette use among adults doubled.  Researchers and public health experts have voiced concerns over the use of electronic cigarettes because there are still so many unknowns about the chemicals these devices can produce.  The American Lung Association (ALA) has cited many concerns about the lack of regulation of e-cigarettes because they are on the market while the potential harm from e-cigarette secondhand exposure remains unknown.  ALA has identified two studies that show formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzene, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, and other harmful irritants coming from e-cigarette emissions.  In addition, the temperature of an e-cigarette can affect how harmful the chemicals are, but with no configuration standards, it is too difficult to uniformly assess the health effects of smoking e-cigarettes.

This year, we celebrate 25 years since legislation was passed banning smoking on domestic flights in the United States.  The current smoking ban applies to the smoking of tobacco products on all scheduled passenger flights and on scheduled passenger flight segments on foreign air carriers in the U.S. and between the U.S. and foreign countries, unless a waiver is granted based on bilateral negotiations.

In 2011, DOT issued an NPRM to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes on U.S. airplanes.  Under current FAA policy, battery-powered electronic cigarettes, vaporizers, vape pens, atomizers, and electronic nicotine systems are prohibited in checked baggage, and the FAA recommends that such devices only be carried in the aircraft cabins because of safety issues.  It is up to individual airlines to ban their use.  Some airlines have already taken the initiative to institute a ban on the use of electronic cigarettes, but legislation is necessary to make this update applicable to all airlines, and permanent.  The amendment will change the statutory definition of smoking in 49 U.S.C. 41706 to include the use of electronic cigarettes, defined as “a device that delivers nicotine or other substances to a user of the device in the form of a vapor that is inhaled to simulate the experience of smoking.”

I urge the adoption of this amendment.