Yesterday, by a vote of 33 to 26, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved an amendment that adds vaping to the federal ban on smoking in airplane cabins. Members of the committee apparently were unswayed by a demonstration in which Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) tried to show that vaping, although it superficially resembles smoking, is actually quite different. Brandishing an electronic device that delivers nicotine to the lungs in a flavored propylene glycol aerosol, Duncan took a puff, exhaled a white plume, and announced:
This is called a vaporizer. There's no combustion. There's no carcinogens. Smoking has gone down as the use of vaporizers has gone up.
There is no burning. There is nothing noxious about this whatsoever. This has helped thousands of people quit smoking. It's helped me quit smoking.
Unfazed, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the amendment's sponsor, said the vaping ban is "in keeping with existing policy that there is no smoking on airlines today." Hunter's point, of course, was that the vaping ban is not "in keeping" with the smoking ban, because vaping is not the same as smoking. Not to worry. Norton's amendment says "the use of an electronic cigarette shall be treated as smoking for purposes of this section." Just as federal officials pretend that e-cigarettes are "tobacco products" even though they do not contain tobacco, Norton wants to pretend that vaping is smoking, even though it does not involve smoke.
The practical effect of the e-cigarette ban is unclear, since most airlines already prohibit vaping on planes. But at least the amendment provided an occasion for Hunter's demonstration, which may encourage people to take misleading official pronouncements about e-cigarettes with a large helping of salt.