Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

Norton Introduces Bill to Ban Use of E-Cigarettes and Other Electronic Smoking Devices on Airplanes

Oct 27, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), a senior member of the House Aviation Subcommittee, today introduced a bill to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices on board airplanes following the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rule issued yesterday 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, and that she acted because the DOT rule requiring passengers to carry electronic vaping devices onto airplanes is a “virtual invitation” to smoke, making this bill necessary.  Norton said 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.

“The use of e-cigarettes and similar vaping devices on airplanes presents a substantial safety risk to passengers from second hand smoke as leading medical organizations have warned,” Norton said.  “The Department of Transportation rule issued yesterday prevents passengers from putting vaping devices into checked luggage, yet, under current federal law, passengers on certain flights can smoke using devices that have not been shown to be definitely safe, either for the user or those around them.  Individual airlines have already recognized the risks posed by vaping devices, and it is time we made the ban on using them in-flight universal with a congressional bill.”

Norton’s full introductory statement is below.

Statement of the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton on

Introduction of Banning the Use of Electronic Cigarettes on Airplanes Act of 2015

October 27, 2015

Ms. Norton.  Mr. Speaker,

I rise to introduce the Banning the Use of Electronic Cigarettes on Airplanes Act of 2015.  The bill 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 in their place, it is necessary to update our laws to reflect this new nuisance and health risk on airplanes.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in 2011 ban the use of these devices, but four years later, no progress has been made.  Therefore, Congress should step in to legislatively resolve the issue.

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 secondhand e-cigarette emissions is 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 many harmful the chemicals are, but with no configuration standards, it is too difficult to uniformly assess the health effects of smoking e-cigarettes.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a proposed rule in 2014 that would extend new regulatory authority to e-cigarettes by subjecting e-cigarettes to registration and product listing requirements, restrictions on marketing products prior to FDA review, and a prohibition on providing free samples like with traditional tobacco products.

This year we celebrate 25 years since legislation was passed banning smoking on domestic flights in the United States.  In the 1960s, the U.S. Surgeon General identified smoking as a cause of increased mortality and by 1986, the U.S. Surgeon General had named secondhand smoke a serious health risk.  The National Academy of Sciences, in its report “The Airliner Cabin Environment:  Air Quality and Safety,” recommended a ban on smoking on all domestic commercial flights.  The Association of Flight Attendants can be credited with urging the smoking ban due to the negative health impacts flights attendants suffered working in cramped, closed-off spaces when a third or more passengers smoked in-flight.  Congress used this information to include an amendment authored by then-Representative Dick Durbin (D-IL) in the Federal Aviation Act that made domestic flights of two hours or less smoke free.  By 1990, this smoking ban was extended to all domestic flights of six hours or less, and, in 2000, the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act made all flights to and from the United States smoke-free.  All of this was done even in the face of the strong tobacco industry’s opposition because of the undeniable health impacts of cigarettes and cigarette smoke.  Many flyers do not remember a time without “No Smoking” signs located throughout a commercial airplane.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued its 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 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.  The Banning the Use of Electronic Cigarettes on Airplanes Act of 2015 will amend the statutory definition of smoking located 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 my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill.