WASHINGTON — In the midst of a debate about e-cigarettes on airplanes on Thursday, California Representative Duncan Hunter pulled out a vaporizer and took a drag.
The House Transportation Committee was debating an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill at the time. The provision, proposed by District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, would formally ban e-cigarettes on passenger airplanes.
“First, I’d like to say this,” said Hunter, a Republican. Seated on the panel with his colleagues, Hunter paused to inhale and exhaled a plume of vapor.
The audience laughed. Representative Candice Miller of Michigan, sitting next to him, waved the vapor away. Hunter went on.
“There’s no combustion. There’s no carcinogens,” he said. “This has helped thousands of people quit smoking. It’s helped me quit smoking.”
It wasn’t just a matter of nicotine either, Hunter said. He pointed to the possibility of inhalable medications coming down the pipe, which he said would be prohibited by the Norton amendment.
“And in the next decade or so, you’re going to be able to inhale your ibuprofen, you’re going to be able to inhale your Prozac,” Hunter said. “Anything else you need drug-wise, you’re going to be able to inhale it.”
He is right that drug companies see potential in inhalable medicines. They have already made inroads with treatments for pulmonary diseases, and drug makers have taken antipsychotic and migraine medications to the FDA. In December, Alexza Pharmaceuticals released initial clinical trial results for an inhalable drug that would treat epilepsy.
But there have been big bumps along the way. Mannkind, a company that had staked its future in part on inhalable insulin, lost its contract with pharmaceutical giant Sanofi last month because the drug wasn’t selling well. And while Hunter spoke about how vaping had helped him quit smoking, studies have suggested that teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try real cigarettes.
(Lawmakers partook in a whole ontological debate about vaporizers versus e-cigarettes. But that’s for another time.)
“I don’t think we want to have clouds of vapor inside the aircraft. It’s not something I want to be inhaling,” said Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, the committee’s ranking Democrat. While he said he was glad vaping had helped Hunter, “that should be in his own private space, not in a very confined public space.”
Committee chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, said he opposed the amendment because lawmakers would next be looking to ban “bad breath.”
“This is probably going to be the headline tomorrow in the committee,” he quipped as the discussion ended.
The committee approved the amendment.