Thursday, September 15, 2011

Airlines and passengers already keeping electronic cigarettes off planes

Many of us are old enough to remember when it was actually acceptable to smoke on commercial flights.

Believe it or not, back in the day, people traveled in the air while smoking and flights were relatively safe and on time. Then, air travel became one of the first and easiest targets for the anti-smoking movement.

Congress banned cigarettes from most commercial U.S. flights in 1990 and on all flights to and from the U.S. in 2000, which doesn’t seem that long ago to some of us. Smoking and non-smoking sections only became mandated on flights in the early 1970s and some carriers eventually went smoke free on their own.

Now, in 2011, electronic cigarettes are being targeted for airline bans from the federal government.

Electronic cigarettes certainly don’t produce the odor and thicker smoke of tobacco cigarettes. When inhaled, electronic cigarettes do heat up a combination of propylene glycol, flavorings and other solutions to produce an odorless nicotine vapor that dissipates much faster than regular cigarettes smoke. Nicotine content levels vary depending on the e-cig brand and model chosen.

However, just the motion, effort and vapor of an electronic cigarette in the small and cramped quarters of a commercial flight is probably enough to be annoying and distracting if nothing else.

As usual, industry (in this case, the airlines) is ahead of government regulation when it comes to the impact of electronic cigarettes to passengers on their flights. Casual research found that most of the top U.S. airlines (Delta, Southwest, American, Air Canada and Continental) already prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes on flights. I could not find any electronic cigarette restrictions for United, US Airways or AirTran, but expect they are currently evaluating the situation.

International flights are somewhat more lenient when it comes to electronic cigarettes, and even tobacco cigarettes in some cases, mainly due to the extreme length of some of those flights.

“Airline passengers have rights, and this new rule would enhance passenger comfort and reduce any confusion surrounding the use of electronic cigarettes in flight,” Secretary U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. The DOT also claims e-cigarettes should be banned due to lack of current evidence or information on their contents and impact.

A spokesman for the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association believes that people are smart enough to know the difference between electronic and real cigarettes on flights, just as they do in other public places, and also noted that there is little or no evidence for risk of these products.

Besides the industry and potential government regulation on electronic cigarettes in flight, electronic cigarette users should know enough to show common courtesy and ask permission before vaping, as electronic cigarette smoking is known in some circles. However, using an electronic cigarette on a plane does have more potential for controversy than a bar, restaurant or other places where they are becoming more common and accepted.

There was an extreme example from a Southwest Airline flight this summer when a passenger caused a disturbance and was arrested after being told to stop using his electronic cigarette. Seems like there were more issues going on with this guy than just need for an electronic cigarette.

Smoking in flight is usually decided by the carrier when it comes to charter or private flights. In fact, Global Exec Aviation of Long Beach, Calif. was offering complimentary Blu electronic cigarettes on some of its flights.

The ultimate in-flight smoking controversy arose briefly a while back when some wondered whether President Obama was smoking on Air Force One. The President has apparently kicked his tobacco smoking habit according to most sources, but maybe it’s time for him to try electronic cigarettes?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Electronic cigarettes heat up as anti-smoking movement stamps itself out

Is it possible that the once huge target on the backs of smokers and anything remotely related to cigarettes is getting harder to hit?

As government mandated smoking bans on private businesses became the norm, a secondary wave of markets arose for products like electronic cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and smoking patios. However, the latest round of anti-smoking rhetoric only seems to be making minor ripples.

The point here is to not necessarily defend or promote cigarette smoking, but offer some perspective on individual choice and common sense when it comes to the use of legal tobacco products.

Bans going up in smoke

Several attempts to ban smoking outdoors or in public parks are meeting minimal success compared to the tsunami of previous indoor mandates. While New York City has banned smoking in its parks, enforcement is nearly impossible and many folks don’t really seem to care if people smoke outside.

 "This is where we draw the line," said Audrey Silk, founder of NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment. "It's time to flip the script. The informed choice to use a legal product is normal."

The same goes for some proposed indoor bans on electronic cigarettes, which emit an odorless nicotine vapor that dissipates in seconds. Electronic cigarette opponents also charge that they might appeal to children, but they are covered by the same age restrictions as cigarettes and other tobacco, so that isn’t a likely outcome.

What the marginal support for proposed bans on outdoor smoking and electronic cigarettes suggests is that odor is main issue most people have with cigarettes, cigars or smoking. Even most smokers acknowledge the smell as annoying and bothersome.

Assuming that secondhand tobacco smoke presents relative health risks when someone faces continued exposure indoors, it is still hard to justify government bans on smoking outside and electronic cigarettes indoors in most cases. Most of the outdoor bans are logistically unenforceable and people just don’t seem bothered by the odorless vapor produced by electronic cigarettes.

Anyone who can read knows the health dangers and risks associated with tobacco smoking, but it seems that about 20 percent of the population still chooses to smoke. It’s just a matter of where they do it. The number of smokers is now less than half of what it was in the Rat Pack era of the 1960s. Some maintain those numbers are probably a bit higher when you consider many who smoke won’t admit it in a survey.

Marketing mandates missing their mark

Two other recent regulatory attempts to curb smoking are in the marketing areas of product packaging and product placement in movies and television.   

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently attempting to force the tobacco industry to use unpleasant and just plain gruesome images (black lungs, corpses, disfigured faces, etc.) on cigarette and tobacco packaging. As expected, the tobacco companies are fighting this regulation as a violation of free speech.

As stated earlier, pretty much everyone in the world knows that cigarette smoking can cause disease and death. What everyone in the world should also know is that as long as cigarettes are legal, a certain percentage of people will apparently choose to use them despite the health ramifications.

Besides the obvious self-interest of the tobacco industry, you have to wonder if the public really wants the federal government focused on another feel good punitive public relations campaign at a time when we are undergoing a national health care overhaul in a struggling economy.

On a lighter note, even smoking in the make believe world of movies and television is under attack from the World Health Organization (WHO) and others. They are pushing for stricter ratings on movies that portray actors or even cartoon characters smoking, as well as for showing less smoking overall, even in productions set in times when smoking was common.

So, even as the AMC drama “Mad Men” makes smoking seem cool again, very few people are going to take up the habit to emulate characters on a cable television show set in the early 1960s. The upcoming ABC network show "Pan Am" set in the ‘60s is apparently planning to play down the smoking aspect of that era.

Whether these organizations try to come down on electronic cigarettes in movies like “The Tourist” with Johnny Depp remains to be seen. Electronic cigarette brands seem free of these restrictions and regulations for the time being since their products are new and long-term health impacts are still being studied and reviewed. Only the future and hopefully some common sense will determine the  regulation of electronic cigarettes.