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U.S. Department of Transportation bans electronic smoking devices in checked airline bags (USDOT)

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On October 26, 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued an interim final rule (IFR) to prohibit passengers and crewmembers from carrying battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices (e.g. e-cigarettes, e-cigs, e-cigars, e-pipes, personal vaporizers, electronic nicotine delivery systems) in checked baggage and prohibit passengers and crewmembers from charging the devices and/or batteries on board the aircraft.  According to the NJ Star-Ledger,

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) said the rule was devised by two of its agencies, the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, which issued this interim final rule, following an advisory published earlier. USDOT’s press release stated the following:

“We know from recent incidents that e-cigarettes in checked bags can catch fire during transport,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Fire hazards in flight are particularly dangerous.  Banning e-cigarettes from checked bags is a prudent safety measure.”

On January 22, 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Safety Alert for Operators recommending that air carriers require their passengers to carry e-cigarettes and related devices exclusively in the cabin of the aircraft.  Also, on June 9, 2015, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) published an addendum to the 2015-2016 ICAO Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air prohibiting the carriage of e-cigarettes in checked baggage and restricting the charging of these devices while on board the aircraft.

“The importance of the safety of the flying public provides good cause for our issuing an IFR,” said PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez. “E-cigarettes in checked bags present a safety risk because they are capable of generating extreme heat, which could lead to a fire on board the aircraft.”

Passengers may continue to carry e-cigarettes for personal use in carry-on baggage or on their person but may not use them on flights.  The Department’s current regulatory ban on smoking of tobacco products on passenger flights includes the use of electronic cigarettes.  The Department has proposed to amend its existing airline smoking rule to explicitly ban use of electronic cigarettes aboard aircraft.

The IFR does not prohibit a passenger from carrying other devices containing batteries for personal use (such as laptop computers, cell phones, cameras, etc.) in checked or carry-on baggage, nor does it restrict a passenger from transporting batteries for personal use in carry-on baggage.

According to NBC News since 2009 the NJDOT has documented at least 26 incidents since 2009 in which e-cigarettes have caused explosions or fires, including several in which the devices were packed in luggage. Usually, they have been accidentally left on or the battery has short-circuited. According to the Associated Press the rule takes effect in 14 days. 

Read the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) October 26, press release. 
Read the October 26, 2015 interim Final Rule PHMSA-2015-0615 Hazardous Materials: Carriage of Battery-Powered Electronic Smoking Devices in Passenger Baggage.
Read the U.S Fire Administration’s October 2014 Electronic Cigarette Fires and Explosions report.
Read the 2010 USDOT policy banning the use of electronic devices on airlines.
Read the October 26, 2015 USA today story.