The U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill Thursday which would loosen Obama-era regulations on e-cigarettes.
The proposal was brought about by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) of California, a vocal and longtime supporter of the use of e-cigarettes, colloquially known as “vapes.”
Under Barack Obama, the Food and Drug Administration began classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products. While the devices do contain nicotine-laced liquid – heated by a battery-powered mechanism to deliver its chemical punch to users – they don’t make use of actual tobacco plants and products.
Proponents of e-cigarette use say vaping is less harmful than smoking or chewing tobacco. Vapes are often marketed at individuals who want to quit smoking but have a hard time leaving nicotine behind.
“This bill is the way forward for smokers who want to quit smoking and vapers who enjoy vaping,” said Hunter in a written statement. “No less important, this bill will set the vaping industry on a solid path for decades to come and require consideration of the harm reduction benefits associated with vaping.”
Current rules governing e-cigarettes mandate that new products be subject to FDA scrutiny for two years before hitting the market.
Suggesting the House do away with the former president’s rules doesn’t mark the first time Rep. Hunter has stuck up for vaping in Congress. At the beginning of 2016, the California Republican challenged an amendment banning vapes on planes by pulling out an electronic cigarette and exhaling puffs of smoke on the House floor.
“So this is called a vaporizer,” Hunter said, blowing a small cloud across his disgruntled neighbor. “There’s no combustion, there are no carcinogens… there is no burning, there is nothing noxious about this whatsoever.”
The display didn’t win the support of Hunter’s colleagues on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who moved forward implementing a ban on e-cigarette use in airplanes.
Hunter may be the most prominent supporter of vaping, but he isn’t the only legislator who wants to see restrictions loosened.
A bipartisan effort backed by Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK) and Sanford Bishop (D-GA) would, according to Reuters’ analysis, “exempt thousands of vaping devices currently on the market from FDA approval. The Cole-Bishop proposal is expected to be attached as a rider to Trump’s spending plan, which could be voted on as early as this week.”
Rep. Hunter’s chief of staff, Joe Kasper, said, “Cole-Bishop is like gaining an inch, and Hunter’s legislation is the yard.”
Big tobacco companies are apparently on board with the effort. Reuters suggests the industry sees e-cigarettes as a promising alternative to traditional tobacco, which, despite its waning popularity in the United States, is posting record profit margins.
Opponents of Hunter’s proposal appeal primarily to emotion and finger Big Tobacco as searching for new ways to get children hooked on nicotine. Others point out that while vaping might not be as harmful, claiming a device to be “safer” than cigarettes isn’t saying much.