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Battery Issues Again

E-cigarette batteries are in the news again. The issue is really not vaporizers but lithium, but of course it is being reported in some press organs as another reason to tell the public e-cigarettes are dangerous.

Lithium batteries, in devices that can be accidentally turned on, can be activated without the owner realizing it, as when they are packed in a case that might get jostled by other objects, as in a baggage storage area or cargo hold. A lithium battery that is powered on can overheat, and that can cause a fire if no one knows the battery is discharging power.

This scenario is precisely what happened at Boston's Logan International Airport, which has prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue a voluntary warning to airlines. The FAA recommends that passengers should be instructed to take their vaporizers in their carry-on luggage, rather than packing it in their checked bags. (Could this be a foot in the door for being allowed to vape on flights? Dream on! Although this would make sense, the current atmosphere will probably prevent such a ruling.)

The Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) understands that the issue is not e-cigs but lithium batteries, and has expressed wishes that the suggested ban should be more comprehensive. ““ALPA has a long standing vocal opposition to the carriage of lithium metal batteries, such as those contained in e-cigarettes, in the aircraft cargo hold,” said a spokesperson for the aviators' group.

Two incidents prompted the warning. In Boston's Logan International Airport, a bag that had already been loaded into the cargo hold of a plane burst into flames, and the aircraft (which was still on the ground) had to be temporarily evacuated. At Los Angeles International Airport, a bag that had been left behind in the luggage storage area was ignited. The FAA has reported two other such incidents since 2009, one of them when an employee noticed smoke coming from a bag, and upon investigation discovered that a vaporizer inside the bag had been accidentally turned on. The Agency reports at least 47 battery fires in aircraft since 2009, at least 39 of them involving lithium batteries, but not all of them in e-cigarettes, it appears. Only four have been definitely reported to be e-cig linked. But of course that's the fine print in the press report on the warning.

Vapers concerned about the public attitude toward vaping can take steps to avoid such instances in the future. One could place one's vaporizer in a case, where the 'on' button could not get pushed by jostling of the bag, in preparation for flight. Or one could temporarily disassemble the unit. Responsible vapers can do a lot to dampen the fires of negative public opinion that are ignited by an unfriendly and headline-hungry press.

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