US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Senators Urge Department of Transportation to Finally Ban E-Cigarettes on Airplanes

Senators Ask Secretary Foxx to Finalize Regulation Protecting Airline Passengers from Exposure to Secondhand Vapor

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) today in urging the Department of Transportation (DOT) to finally prohibit the use of e-cigarettes on airplanes. DOT first proposed a ban more than two years ago, but has delayed issuing a final regulation that would bar e-cigarette “vaping” on all domestic and international flights to or from the United States.

In today’s letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the Senators wrote, “We are writing to you with great concern about protecting consumer health on commercial flights. While many major carriers have decided to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes, federal regulations still allow these products to be used during flight. The Department of Transportation first published proposed rules to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes on aircraft on September 15, 2011…. It is unacceptable that it has been more than two years and this rule has yet to be finalized.”

The letter points out that numerous electronic cigarette companies have marketed their products as a way to break the rules and smoke in places where traditional cigarettes are banned, such as airplanes. The Senators pointed to examples of advertisements that feature or imply the use of electronic cigarettes on airplanes.

The DOT signaled its concern about the potential health impacts of e-cigarettes when it first proposed the ban in 2011, noting that “[r]eleasing a vapor that may contain harmful substances or respiratory irritants in a confined space, especially to those who are at a higher risk, is contrary to the purpose and intent of the statutory and regulatory ban on smoking aboard aircraft.”

While many e-cigarette manufacturers market their products as a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes, recent studies have raised concerns about the possible health impacts of e-cigarette vapor on users and secondhand inhalers as a result of exposure to the carcinogens and toxins found in e-cigarettes.

The full text of the letter follows:

June 10, 2014

The Honorable Anthony Foxx

Secretary

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Ave, SE

Washington, DC 20590

Dear Secretary Foxx:

We are writing to you with great concern about protecting consumer health on commercial flights. While many major carriers have decided to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes, federal regulations still allow these products to be used during flight.

The Department of Transportation first published proposed rules to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes on aircraft on September 15, 2011 (Docket No. DOT–OST–2011–0044). This rule when finalized will ban the smoking of electronic cigarettes on both domestic and foreign air carriers to and from the United States. It is unacceptable that it has been more than two years and this rule has yet to be finalized.

As the Department’s own preamble in 2011 noted, “Releasing a vapor that may contain harmful substances or respiratory irritants in a confined space, especially to those who are at a higher risk, is contrary to the purpose and intent of the statutory and regulatory ban on smoking aboard aircraft.” It also notes that the purpose of such a regulation “is to prevent introduction of a new potential source of contamination to the cabin environment that could potentially endanger the welfare of nonsmokers who are now protected from all such exposure.”

Numerous electronic cigarette companies have marketed their products as offering the freedom to break the rules or smoke in places where traditional cigarettes are banned, such as airplanes. We have attached some examples of past advertisements that feature or imply the use of electronic cigarettes on airplanes.

Please act immediately to finalize these rules, and respond with an exact date when regulations will be published and when electronic cigarettes will finally be banned on commercial flights.

Sincerely,       

Tom Harkin
United States Senator

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator

Sherrod Brown
United States Senator

Jack Reed
United States Senator

Edward J. Markey
United States Senator

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