Until now, the debate around electronic cigarettes has centred on their health credentials. While their makers – and many medical experts – claim they are a safe and effective method of quitting tobacco, others fret that so-called vaping is as antisocial as smoking and can be a gateway into that habit for youngsters.
In the aviation world, concerns are different. After an onboard fire in Boston – supposedly ignited by an e-cigarette in checked luggage – the Department of Transport has been prompted into considering tightening up regulations around the battery-powered devices, which produce nicotine vapour that is inhaled.
Many airlines already ban vaping. But a ban would not prevent an incident similar to the one on board the JetBlue Airways flight, where the e-cigarette’s on button was activated by contact with adjacent baggage.
It could be – as an e-cigarette industry group claims – that the ubiquitous products are no more of a fire risk than other equipment containing batteries, such as laptops and mobile phones, dozens of which occupy the overhead bins of most passenger flights.
However, with several experts in the US fire authorities highlighting the risk of e-cigarettes on board, it is time aviation safety bodies worldwide took the matter seriously – before a fire occurs, not on an aircraft being loaded on the ground, but on one 2h into a flight over the ocean.