Electronic cigarettes have been around for some time now, but the regulations concerning their use are
still unclear. Many believe that because they contain nicotine, e-cigarettes should be banned in all areas
where traditional tobacco cigarettes are already prohibited. E-cigarette users and companies though,
stress that because these devices pose no threat to the people around them, any potential ban would be
unfair. Tobacco cigarettes are finding a growing list of places, such as restaurants, bars, and planes,
where they are no longer allowed because of the dangers of secondhand smoke. Electronic cigarettes
though, do not emit any odors, chemicals, or cancer-causing agents, and are therefore safe to use in public
In fact, in 2010, an electronic cigarette brand called Blue Cigs actually partnered with a charter jet
company to provide free samples to passengers. If successful, they were hoping to expand to other
airlines. Unfortunately, the bad reputation of tobacco cigarettes paired with the electronic cigarette’s
strikingly similar appearance has prevented other airlines from joining the campaign. Though the product
is very different in terms of ingredients and risks, it can’t seem to shake its predecessor’s reputation.
Most small charter planes however, still allow them on flights of 19 or less, when no flight attendants are
needed. Those who are pushing a ban on the devices though, would like to include even these flights in
Just last year, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant asked a passenger to put his e-cigarette away. When
he pulled it out again later in the flight, there was an argument concerning whether or not electronic
cigarettes were prohibited on the aircraft. When the flight attendant continued to refuse his request
to use the device, the passenger became agitated and actually threw peanuts at the crew member. His
outburst caused the plane to return to their take-off location where FBI authorities took him into custody
and cited him for interfering with a flight crew. This was not the only incident of conflict over the use of
electronic cigarettes on an airline.
Some believe that the recent explosion of an e-cigarette in Florida will help regulators see yet another
reason to ban the devices. A man was injured, when a battery inside his e-cigarette exploded during
use. As a result, he had severe burns to his face, lost some of his teeth, and even lost a portion of his
tongue. Airlines might be more hesitant to even allow a potentially explosive device on their planes
after hearing this news. Electronic cigarette companies are protesting the questioning of their product’s
safety though. They drew attention to the fact that the electronic cigarette the Florida man was using
had been modified and therefore no longer met their high standards for safety and quality. Reputable e-
cigarette companies are assuring the public, that if used as directed, their products are safe for users, the
environment, and people in the general vicinity.
Many airlines have noted however that the e-cigarette issue is a common source of confusion for
passengers and a hassle for crews who deal with those disturbances. For this reason, the U.S. Department
of Transportation has proposed an official ban on the use of electronic cigarettes on planes. They
have commented that the original ban on smoking on places from 1987 covers electronic cigarettes as
well, but intend to create a more explicit rule to avoid any further confusion. They received more than
700 comments on the proposal when the commenting period ended last November. Once they have
researched and discussed the matter, while taking these comments into consideration, they hope to make
a decision once and for all. The Obama administration has expressed their support of a ban, which, if
passed, is scheduled to officially take effect this summer.
The Boston Public Health Commission felt no need to wait for federal regulations to ban e-cigarettes
not only on flights, but in all workplaces. While they could cite no significant health reasons for their
strict policy, they did note that they wanted to “close a loophole [by] treating e-cigarettes like tobacco
products.” Electronic cigarette users feel that this grouping is bias though, and would like further review
before more states take the same measures.
In general, the United States seems fairly opposed to the use of electronic cigarettes where tobacco
cigarettes are banned, but the UK seems to have a very different opinion. The UK Cabinet Office’s
Behavioral Insight Team would like to promote the use of e-cigarettes instead of banning them. They
are asking their government to consider the differences between the two products. The team, known as
the “nudge unit,” believes that the electronic devices could help reduce the devastating number of people
killed by smoking diseases each year. They feel that by transitioning people from tobacco to electronic
cigarettes, they would do more good than by banning both products altogether. US e-cig companies are
hoping this reasoning will be taken into consideration in the States as well.
At this point, it still seems unclear as to the fate of electronic cigarettes on planes in the US, but the topic
is certainly drawing some much needed discussion and research. If an official ban is passed, e-cigarette
companies will most likely need to prepare for similar bans to spread to work places, restaurants and the
like as their product becomes officially linked to the tobacco cigarettes they were trying to get away
from. These bans may have drastic effects on e-cigarette sales. Consequently, future consumers may
have to find a different product to calm their cravings at work and in the air.