House Committee Narrowly Approves Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Deadly E-Cigarette Science Denialism

Following three government reports in the 1980s highlighting the low cabin air quality caused by cigarette smoking and the health risks of passive smoke, Congress banned smoking aboard airliners.

This prohibition is currently codified at 49 U.S.C. § 41706, and refers to “smoke” and “smoking,” which are banned on domestic and international flights. A popular new alternative to smoking is the electronic cigarette. Unlike cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not combust tobacco and do not produce smoke. Instead, they heat a liquid that generates vapor containing nicotine and is absorbed by the user’s lungs.

According to the latest scientific research, e-cigarettes are around 95 percent safer than cigarettes for users. The same comprehensive U.K. government review found that vapor products “release negligible levels of nicotine into ambient air with no identified health risks to bystanders.Another study found exposure to passive vapor in enclosed spaces likely poses extremely low health risks relative to tobacco smoke. 

E-cigarettes are fast proving to be the cheapest and most effective way to get smokers to quit and ought to be embraced by serious public health advocates favoring tobacco harm reduction. These facts, however, have not stopped some self-styled public health advocates from lying to the public about the supposed risks posed by e-cigarettes. In fact, these anti-tobacco zealots may convince smokers that e-cigarettes provide no risk benefit, thereby leading them to continue smoking harmful tobacco products, resulting in more illnesses and deaths.

Currently, air carriers voluntarily prohibit e-cigarettes as a public relations move. This is their right as private property owners. But voluntary bans are not enough for the dangerous anti-nicotine fanatics employed by the Obama administration, who deny health science and falsely believe “second-hand” passive e-cigarette vapor poses serious health risks to bystanders. They have been working to illegally implement a regulation improperly stretching the definitions of “smoke” and “smoking” to include e-cigarette vapor in order to ban e-cigarettes on planes.

CEI filed comments on the proposed rule in 2011 and I wrote an article for last year explaining why e-cigarettes should not be treated as cigarettes and why the proposed ban under existing law was illegal.

Recognizing that the administration’s pending regulation was illegal, nonvoting District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced a nanny-state amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill that would extend the current aircraft smoking ban to e-cigarette vapor. It passed 33-26 during the FAA bill markup by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

House and Senate leadership should work to strip this terrible amendment from this important bill (CEI strongly supports the air traffic control reforms contained in the bill). Failing to do so not only embraces the health science denialism pushed by Del. Norton and her extremist allies, it will aid their public relations campaign aimed at casting doubt on the health benefits of switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes, thereby leading to more smoking-related illnesses and premature deaths that would have otherwise been prevented.

As a final note, I would like to commend California Congressman Duncan Hunter’s principled and science-affirming stand in opposition to notorious hit-and-run parker and health science denier Del. Norton. Vape on, Rep. Hunter: