E-cigarette sparks fiery debate

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E-cigarettes are becoming more common. | © iStock Photo

As the popularity of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) rises there is much debate as to the safety of these devices.

In August, an e-cigarette ignited a fire inside the cargo hold of a JetBlue passenger aircraft at Boston-Logan international airport, sparking safety fears about the devices.

It’s believed the fire started when the e-cigarette—located in an exterior zippered compartment of a soft-sided bag—was inadvertently activated while being loaded onto a flight. This caused the device to heat up before setting fire to its surroundings.

Baggage handlers located the smoking bag before extinguishing the fire and notifying relevant authorities, forcing a temporary evacuation of the flight prior to its departure.

Massachusetts Fire Marshal, Stephen Coan, confirmed the fire ignited after surrounding luggage activated the e-cigarette’s ‘push button’ and raised serious concerns about potential safety implications in a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

‘If this fire had started in the cargo luggage area and was undetected while the plane was in flight, a major tragedy could have occurred,’ Coan wrote. ‘The fire service would like to be assured that the appropriate federal authorities are not only aware of this life safety hazard but are actively taking steps to address it.’

A US Senator, Edward Markey, also weighed into the debate saying the incident should serve as a ‘warning for the entire airline industry and every person who steps onto an airplane,’ and called for the FAA to “consider banning e-cigarettes from the cargo holds of passenger planes before tragedy strikes.”

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices capable of converting liquid nicotine to an inhalable vapour by heating it close to 100 degrees Celsius, all in effort to replicate the act of smoking.

Users of e-cigarettes, also known as ‘vapours’, have been known to modify their devices by boring out internal holes and disabling safety mechanisms to create more of an effect, making them easier to use.

Under Australian regulations, e-cigarettes are classified as a portable electronic device (PED) containing lithium ion batteries. They should only be packed in carry-on luggage or carried on you and they should not be used or recharged at any time during flight.

More information can be found on the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s website.

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