Should Electronic Cigarettes Be Classified as Hazardous Materials?

An electronic cigarette reportedly burned a small hole in a piece of checked baggage located inside of an Embraer 190 airplane operated by JetBlue Airways at Logan International Airport in Boston on Saturday, August 9, 2014, causing the evacuation of passengers from the aircraft whose destination was Buffalo.

The bag was removed from the aircraft by baggage handlers, who then used a hand-held fire extinguisher to ensure that the incident did not escalate to a more serious situation.

Ed Freni — who is the director of aviation at the Massachusetts Port Authority — said it was clear that the lithium-ion batteries which power electronic cigarettes posed a hazard, according to an article written by Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times. The Federal Aviation Administration was asked to investigate by airport officials.

This is not the first time in which lithium batteries have caused problems aboard aircraft. Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft had problems with lithium batteries in January of last year — the same type of batteries which the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States advises against carrying in checked baggage due to the temperatures in cargo holds of aircraft in general becoming too hot. Rules pertaining to passengers transporting lithium batteries first became effective on January 1, 2008 to protect against fires and prevent explosions.

A directive was issued only days later by the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States and the civil aviation authorities of the Japanese, Chilean and other governments worldwide as a result of a spate of mechanical and technical issues which have plagued the aircraft since its debut — including those caused by lithium batteries.

After hundreds of millions of dollars were spent by The Boeing Company, the “Dreamliner” finally started flying again in April of 2013; but a maintenance crew at Narita Airport reportedly discovered white smoke and an unidentified liquid emanating from the main battery of a Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft in January earlier this year — supposedly two hours before it was to depart from Tokyo to Bangkok with 158 passengers.

Lithium-ion batteries are not the only danger posed by electronic cigarettes — also known as e-cigarettes. Last June, an article from Reuters reported that seven senators of the United States called on the Department of Transportation for the ban of e-cigarettes on all flights to, from and within the United States, citing that they release a “vapor that may contain harmful substances or respiratory irritants in a confined space, especially to those who are at a higher risk, is contrary to the purpose and intent of the statutory and regulatory ban on smoking aboard aircraft.”

Many airlines already prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes by passengers aboard their flights.

I am usually quite tolerable about a lot of things; but I simply cannot stand to be around traditional cigarette smoke. For some reason, I am the person to whom smokers seem to gravitate when I am outside — such as at the front of an airport terminal at curbside while waiting for a ride, for example. I never did understand that…

…but I must admit that I have never been around anyone who used electronic cigarettes. I understand that liquids which apparently come in a plethora of flavors are used to “smoke” electronic cigarettes. Blackberry, apple, spearmint, banana, raspberry, cherry, pomegranate, strawberry — those are only some of the flavors which certainly sound more aromatic than real tobacco if I had to breathe in “second-hand smoke” — but I cannot comment on that due to lack of personal experience.

It seems as though the point pertaining to flavors is moot aboard airplanes if the lithium-ion batteries which power electronic cigarettes pose a danger to passengers and members of the flight crew. Is the danger similar to that of the lithium batteries aboard Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft last year? Should electronic cigarettes be classified as hazardous materials?

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