The bipartisan infrastructure bill released last night gives a lot more money to Amtrak. Passengers of the rail service, meanwhile, get more rules about their onboard behavior.
Tucked into the 2,700-page bill is a clause that would ban smoking anywhere on an Amtrak train. The bill's text explicitly says that electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices would be covered by the ban.
Existing Amtrak policy already prohibits smoking and vaping on trains, although it is permitted in designated areas of some train stations. But some lawmakers argue that this isn't good enough, since a more consumer-friendly Amtrak management could re-permit smoking or vaping all on its own.
"Although Amtrak has implemented its own policy banning smoking on trains, this policy could be reversed if not codified, particularly in regard to e-cigarettes," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D–D.C.) in a press release back in 2019, when she first introduced a bill to ban vaping on Amtrak. "I am reminding my colleagues of the countless lives lost during the decades it took states to ban smoking in public areas. We should not make the same mistake again by delaying banning electronic cigarettes and vaping devices on trains."
This isn't Norton's first attempt to stop travelers from vaping. In 2016, she introduced a bill to expand the ban on smoking on passenger airplanes to include vaping. That famously led former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R–Calif.) to vape in a committee hearing to emphasize that vaping was not, in fact, the same as smoking. Despite his efforts, the airline vaping ban was eventually included in Congress' 2018 reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Norton's Amtrak vaping ban was folded into House Democrats' more expansive transportation bill back in June. Its inclusion in the new bipartisan bill gives it a good chance of passing the Senate as well.
Though its immediate practical implications are limited, codifying Amtrak's vaping ban into law is far more noxious than the fumes vapers themselves might emit.
The negative health effects of second-hand smoke have already been exaggerated to justify smoking bans. Subjecting far less dangerous vaping products to the same restrictions on public health grounds is absurd. It's conceivable that a ban on people vaping on trains and planes will actually costs lives by encouraging e-cigarette users to travel in more dangerous automobiles on long-distance trips.
Moreover, codifying Amtrak's vaping ban seems to cut against the purpose of all the extra money that the infrastructure bill throws at the company.
Prior to the pandemic, Congress authorized about $1.7 billion each year in federal subsidies for Amtrak. The bipartisan infrastructure bill would give the service close to $4 billion each year. The idea is to improve and expand service so as to increase ridership. That goal isn't helped by telling the vaping public they'll have to put their e-cigarette away during the 18 hours it takes to ride from New York to Chicago.