Are e-cigs and other tobacco substitutes welcome on passenger planes? Are they a danger, an infringement of near-universal strict rules against in-flight smoking, or a benign product that passengers might appreciate?
Recent developments in the U.S. and Europe, and even at transnational level, suggest some very different attitudes.
In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently described e-cigs in checked baggage as a fire risk. It wants airlines to require vapers to carry them, and related devices, onto airplanes and keep them out of checked luggage.
The FAA used a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) to make airlines aware of recent incidents where the devices overheated or even caught fire.
Earlier this month, it stated, a checked bag that had missed its flight was discovered on fire in the baggage area at Los Angeles International Airport. Emergency responders blamed the fire on an overheated e-cigarette inside the bag.
And at Boston’s Logan Airport last August, according to the SAFO, an e-cigarette inside a passenger’s checked bag in an airplane’s cargo hold caused a fire that forced the aircraft to be evacuated.
“These incidents and several others occurring outside of air transportation have shown that e-cigarettes can overheat and cause fires when the heating element is accidentally activated or left on,” the SAFO stated.
It also pointed a finger at e-cig enthusiasts who make changes to their equipment.
“This danger may be exacerbated by the growing trend of users modifying and rebuilding their reusable e-cigarette devices (personal vaporizers) and interchanging original and aftermarket batteries, heating elements, and vaporizing components.”
Requiring passengers to carry e-cigarettes and related devices onto airplanes with them can ensure that such incidents can be identified immediately and mitigated, the SAFO stated.
The FAA has the backing of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which issued a bulletin on 10th December recommending that e-cigarettes be carried into airplanes’ passenger cabins and not in checked bags. The ICAO is the arm of the United Nations that suggests standards for the international aviation community.
“Although ICAO standards and applicable U.S. Department of Transportation [DOT] regulations do not explicitly prohibit e-cigarettes in checked and carry-on baggage, the transportation of battery-powered devices that are likely to create sparks or generate a dangerous evolution of heat is prohibited unless they are packaged in such a manner to preclude such an occurrence,” the SAFO stated.
If the airlines follow the FAA’s recommendation, e-cigarettes will be added to a list of items that cannot be packed in checked baggage in the U.S., but can be carried in hand baggage. Those include items ranging from fuel cells and lighters to devices with lithium-ion batteries.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), indeed, wants the federal government to go further on lithium metal batteries such as those used by e-cigs.
“While we acknowledge the FAA’s safety bulletin regarding carrying e-cigarettes in checked luggage, it is voluntary,” ALPA told ECigIntelligence. “We continue to call on DOT to increase safety standards for transporting all lithium batteries aboard passenger and all-cargo aircraft.”
The association noted its “long-standing vocal opposition to the carriage of lithium metal batteries, such as those contained in e-cigarettes, in the aircraft cargo hold”.
Airlines for America, which represents the American airline industry, said it and its members will closely review the FAA safety alert.
Come vape with us
In Europe, meanwhile, low-cost airline Ryanair has not changed its policy on in-flight vaping despite a new advertising campaign using its boarding passes – but the e-cig company involved is hopeful it could.
The campaign will see Dansmoke-branded “luggage tags” printed on 1.4m Ryanair boarding passes starting this month, enabling passengers to get a discount at the Dansmoke online store.
Ryanair calls itself the largest international airline, although that is a surprisingly hard statistic to pin down, thanks to different ways of measuring airline size. It sold 81.4m tickets in 2013 (the latest year with full data available).
Countries in the campaign include:
“We’re very pleased to be working together with Ryanair to promote our products,” said Robin Roy Krigslund-Hansen, DanSmoke’s CEO. “Ryanair covers all our current and future markets. So together we make a really great team.”
Yet Ryanair still does not allow the use of e-cigarettes on its aircraft, and continues to sell packets of Similar Smokeless Cigarettes, which are disposable non-electronic devices similar to nicotine inhalers.
“Ryanair does not sell electronic cigarettes on board. However, we have been selling smokeless cigarettes since September 2009,” a Ryanair spokesman told ECigIntelligence. The Similar Smokeless products can be used in-flight since they are not e-cigs.
The agreement with Dansmoke is an advertising deal and not a sales partnership, the Ryanair spokesman added.
Still, Dansmoke is optimistic that Ryanair policy on e-cigarettes will change. “Our e-cigarettes contain nicotine, but there’s no burning and only an odourless steam is produced, making them safe to use even on board an airplane once this becomes acceptable with the airline,” a Dansmoke spokesperson told ECigIntelligence.
Dansmoke is part of Electronic Cigarettes Europe.
What This Means: The advertising deal could be a signal that Ryanair is reconsidering its stance on e-cigarettes. As far as we can determine, no airline currently explicitly permits the use of e-cigarettes on board flights, and more and more of them are announcing that the use of e-cigarettes on planes is against company policy.
And, although not directed at in-flight vapers, the FAA action may well encourage further bans in an industry which is – understandably – hugely sensitive to risks real or perceived.
However, if any airline is likely to change its policy, it is Ryanair: because it may represent a revenue opportunity for the airline, which charges generally low prices for tickets, and then steeply for every imaginable extra.
After all, the current Similar Smokeless Cigarettes do not seem to be a hit among users of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products. And as Europeans like to joke, if there’s a way to wrangle more money out of flyers, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary is likely to have thought of it.
– Jim Myers ECigIntelligence Washington correspondent and Freddie Dawson ECigIntelligence staff
Photo: Oscar von Bonsdorff