Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

No Vaping Allowed on U.S. Airlines in Rule to Protect Health

  • Transportation Department says e-cigarettes same as smoking
  • New regulation finds the devices may emit harmful gases

Passengers on commercial flights in the U.S. won’t be allowed to use e-cigarettes under a regulation designed to protect people from the devices’ second-hand vapor.

The Department of Transportation said it considers e-cigarettes to be equivalent to smoking, which is already banned on airliners, according to an e-mailed release Wednesday.

“This final rule is important because it protects airline passengers from unwanted exposure to aerosol fumes that occur when electronic cigarettes are used onboard airplanes,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the release. “The department took a practical approach to eliminate any confusion between tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes by applying the same restrictions to both.”

The action concludes a process that began in 2010 as the department began considering how to treat the new devices that have replaced traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products. The rule takes effect in 30 days.

Tobacco companies say that vapor products should be treated differently than traditional cigarettes because they don’t produce smoke.

Industry Opposition

“We would not oppose common-sense restrictions in certain places such as schools, child-care facilities, hospitals and health-care facilities,” R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co. spokesman Jacob McConnico said in an e-mail. “However, we believe it should be up to an individual company or business owner as to what type of restrictions, if any, they would place on the use of vapor products at their business.”

Brian May, a spokesman for Altria Group Inc., which sells Marlboro cigarettes as well as e-cigarette products, declined to comment on the regulation.

The action is the second involving electronic smoking devices on aircraft since October. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates dangerous goods on aircraft, issued an interim rule forbidding passengers from carrying the devices in checked baggage or charging the devices on aircraft. The lithium batteries used in e-cigarettes have been linked to fires.

Heavy Metals

The DOT concluded that the aerosol emitted from e-cigarettes or exhaled by users contains heavy metals, particles that may damage the lungs and cancer-causing chemicals, according to the regulation.

The prohibition applies to scheduled airlines, charter operators and foreign carriers flying to or from the U.S.

Lawmakers applauded the DOT action. Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who co-sponsored a measure directing DOT to finalize the e-cigarette rule, and Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, both said they approved of the new restrictions in e-mailed press releases. 

“This is a sensible rule that will help protect consumer health and improve safety on commercial flights,” Reed said in the release.

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