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U.S. National Park Service changes its mind on vaping ban without notice or reason

On January 6, 2017, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) proposed a new rule that would implement a vaping ban in all areas of national parks previously designated as no smoking. The rule was open for public comment for some 60 days, but it only took less than two weeks before the NPS abruptly rescinded the proposed rule without offering an explanation, much to the concern of anti-tobacco lobbyists.

The announcement was posted on the Federal Register on January 18 with very brief and somewhat mysterious wording. In one short paragraph, the NPS put the kibosh on the proposed vaping ban.

“The National Park Service withdraws the proposed rule that would revise the regulation that defines smoking to include the use of electronic cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems; and would allow a superintendent to close an area, building, structure, or facility to smoking when necessary to maintain public health and safety. The withdrawal is based upon a need to engage in additional interagency coordination and review of the proposal.”

It is this last sentence of the Federal Register post that has activists on both sides of the argument rather confused. What “interagency coordination” is required and between which government agencies other than the NPS? An NPS spokesman, Jeffery Olsen, refused to elaborate when asked for more details via email by Gizmodo reporters.

But the earlier January 6 statement originally proposing the vaping ban was crystal clear. The NPS was apparently worried about perceived negative health effects of second-hand vapor.

“Non-smokers are exposed to nicotine and other potentially harmful components of ENDS vapor at higher than background levels when passively exposed to second hand vapor.1 The vapor exhaled from an ENDS also contains potentially harmful levels of particulate matter in addition to nicotine, as well as potentially toxic compounds such as carbonyls, metals, and organic volatile compounds. 2 There has been increased attention in the scientific community to explore the level of potentially harmful constituents in ENDS vapor. 3 Despite lower levels of nicotine than in second-hand smoke, exhaled ENDS aerosols result in similar nicotine uptake levels as measured by blood serum cotinine levels in bystanders.”

U.S. National Park Service: Vape ‘em if you’ve got ‘em!

So why did the NPS change its mind so abruptly and seemingly without any advanced notice? Many political insiders speculate that the recent backlash over the current Surgeon General’s comments regarding vaping as an increasing danger to American youth may be part of the equation. With Dr. Vivek Murthy on his way out, and the new Trump Administration less than 24-hours away, perhaps the National Park Service decided to adopt a wait-and-see approach before making any massive changes.

Of course, the NPS is keeping silent at the moment. Any “reasons” for the change of heart are just pure speculation at this point. And the NPS is also not commenting on the possibility of a newly worded vaping ban proposal in the near future. But for now, vaping in national parks is still allowed.