The Obama administration on Wednesday proposed banning the use of electronic cigarettes on airline flights, saying there is concern the smokeless cigarettes may be harmful.
"Airline passengers have rights, and this new rule would enhance passenger comfort and reduce any confusion surrounding the use of electronic cigarettes in flight," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
The ban would clarify an existing Transportation Department rule prohibiting smoking cigarettes or similar products on airline flights.
The proposal would apply to all domestic airline flights, as well as scheduled flights of U.S. and foreign carriers to and from the U.S. The department is also considering whether to extend the ban to charter flights.
E-cigarettes, as they are popularly called, are designed to deliver nicotine or other substances to the smoker in the form of a vapor. They are powered by small lithium ion-batteries. Industry officials say there is no possible harm to the public from their use.
"Everybody knows that when you are smoking on an airplane that's an absolutely a no-no. But this is not smoking. This is vaping," said Ray Story, CEO of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.
The Transportation Department is "asking for something that makes zero sense because this product emits nothing," Story said. "I don't think the masses have been educated enough to know this isn't smoking."
The department said there is a lack of scientific data and knowledge of the ingredients in e-cigarettes. The Air Force surgeon general issued a memorandum last year warning that one sample tested by the Food and Drug Administration contained diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used in antifreeze, and other samples contained cancer-causing agents. The surgeon general also cautioned commanders that e-cigarette cartridges are replaceable and could be used to deliver substances other than nicotine.
Several states have taken steps to ban either the sale or use of electronic cigarettes. Amtrak has banned the use of electronic smoking devices on trains and in any area where smoking is prohibited. The U.S. Navy has banned electronic cigarettes below decks in submarines.
The e-cigarette association, which represents 25 manufacturers and distributors, says on its website that there are only five ingredients in the devices: nicotine, water, coriander, citric acid and fragrant orchid element.
E-cigarettes have been marketed as a way to address both the nicotine addiction and the behavioral aspects of smoking _ the holding of the cigarette, the puffing, seeing the smoke come out and the hand motion _ without the thousands of chemicals found in cigarettes.
Nearly 46 million Americans smoke cigarettes. About 40 percent try to quit each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unlike nicotine patches or gums, e-smokes have operated in a legal gray area.
First marketed overseas in 2002, e-cigarettes didn't become easily available in the U.S. until late 2006. The FDA lost a court case last year after trying to treat e-cigarettes as drug-delivery devices.
Transportation Department www.dot.gov
Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association http://www.tveca.com/contacts.php
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