U.S. Bans E-Cigs In Checked Baggage

By Dorri Olds 05/23/16

Passengers are only allowed to transport their e-cigs in their carry-on luggage, though they cannot charge the devices while on the plane.

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U.S. Bans E-Cigs In Checked Baggage

This month, the U.S. Department of Transportation permanently banned e-cigarettes from checked luggage on airplanes. The final ruling came in response to the growing incidence of fires that have been caused by e-cigarettes.

The luggage ban covers all battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices: e-cigarettes, e-cigars, e-pipes, e-hookahs, personal vaporizers, or any electronic nicotine delivery systems. Passengers and crew must instead bring these items with them in carry-on luggage, but they are not allowed to charge batteries for these devices or use them on the plane.

Back in March, the DOT banished smoking these e-devices on all commercial and charter flights. The agency issued a final ruling prohibiting e-cigs in checked luggage this month, citing recent examples of the stowed-away devices causing fires in people's bags. In 2014, an e-cigarette in a passenger's checked bag caused a fire in the cargo hold and forced the airline to evacuate the plane at Logan International Airport in Boston. And in 2015, an e-cigarette ignited a checked bag when it overheated at Los Angeles International Airport.

These may be isolated incidents—in 2014, nearly 13% of American adults had tried e-cigarettes—but the risks can be pretty serious. In the worst cases, exploding e-cigs have caused severe burns, and even blinded a teenager in his left eye in April when it exploded in his mouth. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there have been more than two dozen reported incidents of explosions and fires caused by e-cigarettes between 2009 and 2014—including those involving checked luggage on airplanes. 

Many of these incidents are linked to the lithium-ion battery in the devices. Manufacturing defects, punctures and overcharging can cause the battery to overheat and trigger an explosion. This is the same type of battery found in many hoverboards, another device that's made headlines for causing fires.

The Federal Aviation Administration noted in a release that e-cig users may increase the risk of fires and explosions if they modify their devices and "interchange original and aftermarket batteries, heating elements, and vaporizing components."

Restricting the portable smoking devices to the cabin will allow accidental fires to be detected and handled more quickly, the agency said in January. 

In response to the growing concern over vaping's fire hazards, the American Vaping Association maintained that proper usage should pose no risk to consumers. "When charged and used under proper conditions, vapor product batteries pose no more of a fire risk than similar lithium-ion batteries that are used in cell phones and laptops," it said in a statement earlier this year.

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.