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Should E-Cigarettes Even Be Allowed on Planes?

The Senate is considering an amendment that would ban vaping devices from all planes, even in luggage.

Vapers haven't been able to cloud chase in the middle of a cross-country flight for years, thanks to airline policies banning vaping on board. But if a new senate amendment is approved, vapers won't even be able to bring their devices onboard a plane in the first place.

S.A. 3547 is an amendment to an amendment (isn't bureaucracy fun?) on the Federal Aviation Authority's reauthorization bill, which is currently being discussed by the US Senate. It includes a short provision that would ban vaping devices from being brought on board, even in carry-on luggage. Vaping devices were banned from being packed in checked luggage or charged onboard by the Department of Transportation last October, but this would extend the law to prevent vapers from flying with their gear at all.


This has many in the vaping community alarmed. Unlike cigarettes (which are allowed in carry-on luggage), or even vape juice, one can't easily or cheaply pick up a new custom mod after touching down. Vaping devices are personal, reusable, and can be expensive—in some ways, they're often more like a cell phone than a pack of Marlboros.

"I travelled [to Dallas] with five box mods, some tanks, some juice, and a box full of batteries," vape reviewer Jess Hawkins said in a vlog about the amendment. "In order for me to be down here for two weeks, continue vaping, and not go back to smoking, I've got to carry that stuff with me."

But legislators have safety concerns about e-cigarettes on planes due to a growing number of reports of the devices exploding and catching fire. As of January 2016, there have been 11 recorded incidents of e-cigarettes either smoking, catching fire, or exploding on planes, according to a report by the FAA. That's out of a total of 171 incidents of any battery-powered objects catching fire or exploding on planes since 1991, and many of those incidents involved cell phones and laptops. E-cigarettes are also relatively new and not as ubiquitous as cell phones, so 11 cases isn't an insignificant number.

But even the US Fire Administration notes that vaping devices catching fire or exploding is rare, usually not serious, and most often occurs when the device is charging or in use, not sitting in a bag. If other common electronics with lithium batteries—like laptops and cell phones—can catch fire occasionally, too, why single out e-cigarettes?

Earlier this year, despite some theatrical arguments against it, Congress voted to make it illegal to vape on planes—catching up to the existing airline restrictions—so there's definitely an appetite to regulate these devices in the air. It's also worth noting that Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who introduced the amendment, hasn't exactly been pro-vape in the past. He was a big supporter of the recently passed airplane bans, has pushed for banning flavored e-liquids, and urged the FDA to hurry up with finalizing its e-cig regulations. Motherboard reached out to Sen. Blumenthal but he was not available for comment before deadline.

It's still very early days for this amendment, which has yet to be formally introduced, and vaping advocacy groups have launched campaigns against it. But if it gains traction, it would mean the end of vapors being able to easily travel with their goods.

"They've already prohibited these devices from being used, being charged, and being stored in checked bags, banning from possession goes too far," said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association. "Any senator who votes for this is essentially declaring war on their ex-smoker constituents."