vapcongress

With one defiant puff in a congressional hearing, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) blew up an otherwise quiet debate Thursday.

"So," he said as he exhaled a cloud of mist in a House Transportation Committee hearing. "This is called a vaporizer."

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) smoked a vaporizer while defending the use of them on airplanes during a Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure meeting Feb. 11. (Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure)

"There is nothing noxious about this whatsoever," Hunter went on. The congresswoman next to him wasn't so sure; she waved the cloud away.

The committee was voting on Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton's (D-D.C.) proposal to ban vaping on airplanes. Hunter, the "Yes, I vape" congressman, was most definitely opposed to it.

In rather theatrical fashion, he urged his colleagues to say no too. Vaping has helped him quit smoking, he said, and he argued Norton's amendment would also make it tough for people with asthma inhalers or people inhaling "medicine of the future" through vaporizers to take their hits on a plane. "For freedom's sake," he said.

The amendment ended up passing. It was one of dozens of amendments the committee voted on as part of a larger aviation bill making its way through Congress, and while interesting, it probably wouldn't have made national news without Hunter's brand of civil disobedience.

Vaping advocates are ostensibly grateful. They have been waging what looks like a losing battle in Washington to fight back what they say is an onslaught of onerous legislation and federal regulation that's strangling an industry lawmakers don't understand.

Greg Conley, with the upstart nonprofit advocacy group American Vaping Association, said groups like his are fighting a battle on a lot of fronts.

President Obama just signed a bill requiring that all packaging containing nicotine is child-resistant. The Federal Drug Administration is finishing up regulations that would essentially put vaping products under the same strict regulations as other tobacco products — a move that Conley argues would put the burgeoning industry on death watch. There are efforts at the state level to treat vaping products as traditional tobacco products, from packaging to labeling to advertising to taxing them. There are also active debates about where you can mist up (to coin a phrase) and when.

Vaping advocates are pushing a bill that would let the FDA regulate vaping products but requests it doesn't simply lump the industry in with cigarettes and other tobacco products. The House bill, led by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), currently has 45 co-sponsors, not an insignificant number. (Hunter is one of them.)

As lawmakers across the nation decide how to handle this growing industry, most vapers are following their own code of conduct, Conley said: "Most vapers understand they wouldn't walk into a Walmart and do it."  

Hunter, a regular vaper himself, probably knew that when he decided to mist up in Congress with the C-SPAN cameras watching. But thanks to his little vaping stunt, you know all this stuff too, now.