Panel votes to ban e-cigarettes on flights

Panel votes to ban e-cigarettes on flights
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The House Transportation Committee approved on Thursday a ban on electronic cigarettes on flights. 

The measure, which was attached to a funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration, would extend an existing ban on smoking traditional cigarettes in-flight to include e-cigarettes. 

The amendment, filed by Del. Eleanor Holmes NortonEleanor Holmes NortonDem proposes repealing Capitol gun ban in response to concealed-carry bill Democrats are all talk when it comes to DC statehood Female lawmakers push for action on sexual misconduct MORE (D-D.C.), was approved on a 33-26 vote on Thursday after a contentious debate that included a lawmaker taking a puff from a nicotine vaporizer in protest of the proposed ban. 

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Norton said Thursday that e-cigarettes should be treated no differently than their tobacco counterparts when it comes to banning them on flights. 

“I am surprised by the strong margin by which my amendment passed, but I introduced it by reminding members that nearly 30 years ago we banned smoking on airplanes,” she said in a statement.  

“Despite the best efforts of Rep. [Duncan] Hunter [R-Calif.], who came equipped with his vaping device and demonstrated its use, members were not impressed enough to defeat my amendment," she continued. "On a serious note, though, I reminded members of the countless lives lost after it took us decades to ban smoking on airplanes and elsewhere and asked that there be no repeat of such a delay on electronic cigarettes and vaping devices.”

Opponents of the proposal to ban e-cigarettes argued that the devices should not be included in the ban because they are electronic and do not emit actual smoke. 

"This is called a vaporizer. There's no combustion. There's no carcinogens," Hunter said after exhaling a white cloud during the hearing. "Smoking has gone down as the use of vaporizers has gone up.

"There is no burning. There is nothing noxious about this whatsoever," Hunter said. "This has helped thousands of people quit smoking. It's helped me quit smoking." 

Conservative groups in Washington criticized lawmakers on the Transportation Committee for approving the proposal to ban e-cigarettes on flights. 

"House and Senate leadership should work to strip this amendment from this important bill," Competitive Enterprise Institute transportation policy expert Marc Scribner said in a blog post after the vote on Thursday. 

"Failing to do so not only embraces science denialism pushed by Del. Norton and her extremist allies, it will aid their public relations campaign aimed at casting doubt on the health benefits of switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes, thereby leading to more smoking-related illnesses and premature deaths that would otherwise have been prevented." 

The proposal to ban e-cigarettes is one of dozens of amendments being considered Tuesday to the FAA funding bill before the committee this week. 

The agency's funding is currently set to expire on March 31.

The FAA bill is one of the few must-pass pieces of legislation left on the congressional agenda this year. As such, it also represents an opportunity for lawmakers looking for a vehicle on which to attach pet issues.

Most of the debate about the aviation funding bill thus far has been focused on a controversial plan from House Republicans to separate air traffic control from the FAA

The text of an amendment to require airlines to try to seat families together can be read here

Jesse Byrnes contributed to this report.