Smoking electronic cigarettes would be explicitly banned on all domestic and international commercial flights in the U.S. under a new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Current federal law prohibits passengers from smoking any tobacco product on a commercial plane but does not single out the use of electronic cigarettes.
Most electronic cigarettes do not burn tobacco but use a lithium battery to heat up a liquid nicotine solution, creating a vapor that can be inhaled to deliver the chemical directly into the lungs.
"Airline passengers have rights, and this new rule would enhance passenger comfort and reduce any confusion surrounding the use of electronic cigarettes in flight," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement Wednesday.
For years, flight attendants have spoken out against electronic cigarettes, saying passengers have confronted attendants over electronic cigarettes because some air travelers argue that the federal tobacco ban does not apply to electronic cigarettes.
The proposed ban on electronic cigarettes was blasted Wednesday by Ray Story, chief executive of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Assn., a Washington-based trade group that promotes the use of electronic cigarettes as an alternative to traditional tobacco products.
Story said the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette would pose no danger to nearby passengers on a plane. He said the ban would relegate electronic cigarette smokers to airport smoking sections where they would be exposed to the proven harmful effects of traditional tobacco cigarettes.
"How do you ban a product from a plane when it doesn't do anything?" Story said.
Under the federal rule-making process, the public has until Nov. 14 to submit comments on the proposed ban. People can file comments at http://www.regulations.gov. Once there, the public can comment by searching for the keywords "electronic cigarettes."
Federal officials said they could not estimate how long it would take to review the comments and prepare a final rule for adoption.