Court upholds Obama rule banning vaping on airplanes

Court upholds Obama rule banning vaping on airplanes
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A federal appeals court Friday upheld an Obama administration regulation that bans the use of electronic cigarettes — or e-cigarettes — on commercial airplanes.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected arguments by a free-market group and an e-cigarette advocacy group that the Department of Transportation (DOT) exceeded its legal authority and used bad science to justify the 2016 rule.

The decision closes a chapter in the ongoing federal debate over how to regulate e-cigarettes. The devices have been shown to be less harmful than traditional cigarette smoking, but regulators and some politicians have sought to nonetheless subject them to similar standards.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has been one of the most vocal e-cigarette advocates.

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During a recent House debate about whether to codify the airplane vaping ban into law, Hunter famously used an e-cigarette in order to show that it is not harmful. It was the second time he has vaped during a committee meeting.

Congress banned smoking on short flights in the 1980s and extended the rule to all flights in 2000.

The Obama administration’s DOT last year declared that smoking e-cigarettes — also known as vaping — is included under that prohibition.

Officials also cited studies about the health effects of second-hand tobacco vapor, studies that the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association said weren’t scientifically sound.

But by a 2-to-1 ruling, the D.C. court rejected those arguments, saying that the DOT acted reasonably and within the authority Congress gave.

“Although the statute does not define ‘smoke,’ some dictionary definitions, some state laws, and some characterizations of smoking by the e-cigarette industry itself support the department,” Judge Raymond Randolph wrote for himself and Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

The judges admitted that the scientific studies “may have flaws, but they tend to show that e-cigarette vapor in confined aircrafts could harm non-users.”

“Especially due to the ‘involuntary nature’ of secondhand exposure on aircrafts, where individuals are often assigned seats, the department gave particular weight to these health risks.”

The judges noted that all United States airlines have already banned vaping.

Judge Douglas Ginsburg dissented from the ruling, saying that lawmakers writing the original smoking ban in 1987 did not mean for “smoking” to include e-cigarettes, which did not exist at the time.

In a statement following the ruling, Sam Kazman, general counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the court redefined “smoking” in a “dangerous” way.

“It allows the commonly-understood language of Congress’s 30-year old no-smoking statute to be stretched into a ban on e-cigarettes — even though e-cigarettes involve no combustion and produce no smoke,” he said.