DOT proposes ban on electronic cigarettes on planes

ByBart Jansen, USA TODAY
September 14, 2011, 8:53 PM

— -- The government wants to ban electronic cigarettes on airline flights because of concerns about health risks from the vapors.

The Transportation Department is proposing the ban in a rule being published today in the Federal Register, the first step in government regulation.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, don't burn tobacco. The battery-operated devices offer users a vapor of liquid ingredients, including nicotine.

But the department points to a lack of research into the devices' ingredients that could irritate passengers' eyes and throats as justification for the proposed ban.

"Airline passengers have rights, and this rule would enhance passenger comfort and reduce any confusion surrounding the use of electronic cigarettes in flight," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says.

But Ray Story, chief executive of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, says the effort is unfair while the possible risks of his products are unproven.

Story claims that competitors that make regular cigarettes and products such as nicotine gum or patches were behind the proposed rule.

"Honestly, it's just insane," Story says. "It clearly shows to me that it's motivated by whoever is pulling the biggest purse strings: big tobacco, big pharmaceutical."

A federal ban on smoking in airplanes became law in April 2000. But smoking continues on charter flights so long as they provide a no-smoking section.

While several airlines already ban e-cigarettes, the department proposed the law because of the growing use of the products that generate an estimated $100 million in annual sales.

Amtrak has banned the use of e-cigarettes wherever smoking is banned. The Navy has banned the devices below decks on ships. And the Air Force surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Charles Green, has issued a memo highlighting safety concerns for airmen.

E-cigarettes vaporize propylene glycol, nicotine, water, coriander, citric acid and a fragrance from orchids.

"Propylene glycol is in lotion, it's in makeup, it's in medicine — it's in everything because it allows your body to absorb things faster," Story says.

But the department cites 2001 research in Occupational and Environmental Medicine that found propylene glycol mist can cause acute irritation to eyes and upper airways. The New England Journal of Medicine noted in a July article that inhaling propylene glycol hasn't been studied in people.

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