Do smoking bans apply to e-cigarettes?

From: USA Today

Nancy Trejos

Look at any electronic cigarette company’s website, and you’ll read that you can smoke the battery-operated devices almost anywhere.

Up until recently, Blu eCigs boasted on its website that one benefit over traditional cigarettes is that you can “Smoke anywhere!” The website has since toned down its language to say that you can “Smoke in many places where traditional cigarettes aren’t allowed!”

The confusion about where you can or cannot smoke e-cigarettes has posed a challenge for the travel industry.  The FDA has not ruled on the safety of e-cigarettes, but the agency will propose a rule on how to regulate them down the road.

That’s not stopping people who want to quit smoking from turning to the smokeless, odorless alternative.

According to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, which represents the industry, e-cigarette makers have been able to capture 10% to 14% of the 44 million tobacco users in the U.S.

E-cigarettes heat liquid containing nicotine to produce vapor. In addition to water, the e-cigs typically contain vegetable glycerine, artificial flavoring and sometimes, propylene glycol, which is also found in asthma inhalers.

“E-cigarettes as a whole have no secondhand smoke,” says Ray Story, chief executive officer of the association. “They don’t emit anything.”

But Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, says, “They do emit toxic chemicals into the environment.

“My opinion is that they’re dangerous — not as dangerous as conventional cigarettes — but that they’re dangerous,” he says.

Where exactly can travelers smoke e-cigarettes? The answer is still not clear.

Bill Mosley, a spokesman for the  Department of Transportation, says the current ban on  smoking on planes applies to e-cigarettes, though it does not explicitly say so.

“There has been some confusion over whether the Department’s ban on smoking includes a ban on (the) use of e-cigarettes,” he says.

To clear up that confusion, in September 2011, the department proposed an amendment to explicitly ban e-cigarettes. A final rule is expected by the end of this year.

Passengers who fail to comply with the no-smoking ban can currently be fined between $1,100 and $11,000 by the  Federal Aviation Administration.

Airports and hotels are generally on their own when deciding how to deal with e-cigarettes.

You can’t power up an e-cig at Baltimore/ Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. But you can at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “State law governs indoor smoking but does not address electronic cigarettes, nor have we chosen at this point to govern their use by ordinance,” says spokesman Patrick Hogan.

Same goes for hotels, which in recent years have been more aggressive in getting rid of smoking rooms and public spaces on their properties.

Wyndham Hotel group, for example, has not made any changes to smoking polices but “will continue to monitor the trend as it emerges,” says spokeswoman Kathryn Zambito.

But Jeffery Waddell, director of Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa, says, “We would treat an electronic cigarette as a cigarette. There is nicotine vapor, and it falls into the realm of smoking.”

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