Feds to ban e-cigarettes in checked airline luggage

Feds to ban e-cigarettes in checked airline luggage
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The Department of Transportation is moving to ban electronic cigarettes in airline passengers' checked luggage on commercial flights. 

The transportation department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a notice of an interim final rule that would ban all e-cigarettes from checked luggage and prohibit passengers from charging the devices during flights, beginning in seven days. 

The agency said it is issuing the new rule because there have been 25 incidents of explosions and fires involving e-cigarettes between 2009 and 2014, according to a report from the federal government's own Fire Administration. 

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"Here, there is a credible indication of an emerging transportation safety risk from two recent incidents involving battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices in checked baggage and additional non-transportation incidents that occurred while these types of devices were being charged," the hazardous materials agency said in its notice of the new rule. 

"E-cigarettes in checked bags present a safety risk because the devices are capable of generating extreme heat and an incident can result in the ignition of nearby contents," the notice continued. "Carriage of e-cigarettes in the passenger cabin addresses this safety risk by ensuring that if an incident does occur, it can be immediately identified and mitigated." 

The DOT's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a safety alert about the potential for e-cigarette fires on airplanes earlier this year, citing incidents at Boston's Logan International Airport in August 2014 and Los Angeles International Airport in January 2015. 

"These incidents and several others occurring outside of air transportation have shown that e-cigarettes can overheat and cause fires when the heating element is accidentally activated or left on," the FAA said in its alert on Jan. 22, 2015, which recommend the prohibition that the pipeline and hazardous materials agency is now moving to enforce. 

"This danger may be exacerbated by the growing trend of users modifying and rebuilding their reusable e-cigarette devices (personal vaporizers) and interchanging original and aftermarket batteries, heating elements, and vaporizing components," the FAA warning continued. "It is recommended that  operators require their passengers to carry e-cigarettes and related devices exclusively in the cabin of the aircraft." 

The pipeline and hazardous materials agency said its notice this week it "believes that a delay in implementing this measure could result in serious harm to the traveling public," noting that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has already issued a similar e-cigarette ban.

"Given the safety risks posed by e-cigarettes in checked baggage, PHMSA believes that public notice would frustrate the due and required execution of agency functions," the agency said. "Although some airlines have voluntarily complied with the SAFO recommendations, there is no domestic regulation to require continued compliance with the recently adopted ICAO amendment.

"The DOT is taking immediate action to strengthen safeguards for the carriage of battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices in passenger checked baggage and prohibit passengers and crewmembers from charging the devices and/or batteries on board the aircraft," the notice continued. "This interim final rule is effective seven days after publication in the Federal Register." 

The full notice of the new rule on e-cigarettes can be read here