U.S. transportation secretary Anthony Foxx announced a final rule Wednesday to ban the use of e-cigarettes on all commercial flights in the U.S., aiming to avoid confusion over the legal position.
“This final rule is important because it protects airline passengers from unwanted exposure to electronic cigarette aerosol that occurs when electronic cigarettes are used on board airplanes,” Foxx said.
“The department took a practical approach to eliminate any confusion between tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes by applying the same restrictions to both.”
Scheduled to be published in the Federal Register, the final rule was described as a clarification in Foxx’s announcement and applies to all scheduled flights in, to and from the U.S. on domestic and foreign carriers.
It stated that the agency views its current smoking ban to be broad enough to include the use of electronic cigarettes even though the prior rule did explicitly define “smoking”.
“The Department took this action to eliminate any confusion over whether its ban includes electronic cigarettes,” the announcement explained.
“This rule explicitly bans the use of electronic cigarettes in all forms, including but not limited to electronic cigars, pipes, and devices designed to look like everyday products such as pens.”
Last month, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved an amendment to ban the use of e-cigarettes on planes.
Attached to a bill that includes major changes to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the amendment was sponsored by Washington, DC Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, who argued the 25-year-old ban on smoking on plans should be extended to e-cigarettes.
Norton said the momentum generated by the bipartisan support of her amendment spurred the Department of Transportation to act.
She noted the agency had issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2011 to ban the use of e-cigarettes on commercial planes, adding that proposal appeared to be stuck.
“I believe this case should have been closed long ago,” Norton said.
The rule is available at www.regulations.gov.
What This Means: This was really just a question of when it would happen, rather than if; the FAA has been heading in this direction for over a year, and most airlines already have a vaping ban in place. Passengers are also largely prohibited from charging e-cigs on planes, and devices are required to be in hand baggage rather than hold baggage following a small number of accidental ignitions.
Since it is a very small number of airlines that still allow any kind of vaping, the repercussions from this are likely to be insignificant at worst. Smoking bans have been in place for more than two decades already, so this will not be a hardship given the relative youth of the vaping industry.
There have been more than 29 aviation incidents involving overheating e-cigarettes since 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation and The Aviation Herald, a tracker of aviation incidents.
– Jim Myers ECigIntelligence Washington correspondent