The United States Navy is putting its foot down when it comes to e-cigarettes.
Time is reporting that the military branch announced last Friday that it is placing a temporary ban on e-cigarettes that goes into effect on May 14. This ban will be put into place for sailors, Marines, commanders, and even civilians who board naval aircraft, boats, sea-faring vessels, or heavy equipment that is used for military duty.
“The Fleet commanders implemented this policy to protect the safety and welfare of Sailors and to protect the ships, submarines, aircraft, and equipment,” the Navy noted in an official announcement that was released last week and published on Jezebel. The military branch went on to say that: “The prohibition will be effective 30 days from the release of the policy May 14, and will remain in effect until a final determination can be made following a thorough analysis.”
The Fleet commanders have been focusing on e-cigarettes as a potential safety hazard on vessels for the past few years; Engadget reported that as many as 15 incidents were reported to the command office from October of 2015 to June of 2016, some of which included incidents on vessels and aircraft that prompted an emergency response, including one incident in which the pilot of an aircraft had to make an emergency landing because their e-cigarette device began smoking up the cockpit.
The incidents have been traced back to the use of lithium-ion batteries, which are the main power sources used in e-cigarettes. They can be volatile when used improperly and have been known to cause explosions, as pointed out by Jezebel. This seems to be the case for the incidents reported by Navy sailors and officers.
However, it is also important to note that e-cigarette safety is often dismissed by users, especially at work. These precautions, such as never leaving an e-cigarette in pockets or bags that contain coins, using batteries that no longer have a protective coating, or using mods that utilize more than one battery, are put into place precisely because of the danger involved with lithium-ion batteries.
Still, the problem with the batteries continues. Digital Trends reported that similar incidents led to the United States Department of Transportation instituting a rule last year that banned e-cigarettes from being used on domestic flights.
There’s also the fact that the Navy still allows smoking onboard its aircraft and vessels. This poses a problem because many people, including military members, use e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation method. By banning the devices on vessels, which military servicemembers can be on for months at a time, the Navy is taking away a safer alternative to smoking.
It should be noted here that e-cigarettes are being heralded in other parts of the world for this exact reason; the leading health body in the UK has officially endorsed vaping as a smoking cessation method and encouraged employers to allow vaping on work grounds. Other countries have also begun to debate whether or not e-cigarettes are a safe way to cut down on smoking, including New Zealand and India.
Allowing traditional cigarettes but not e-cigarettes aboard vessels causes another problem, one that the military may not want to shed light on: second-hand smoke. This fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the effects of second-hand smoke from traditional cigarettes at length. Even with designated smoke areas, some people may be at risk for these effects, which in some cases can lead to severe cardiovascular disease and death.
So the question is this: why would the Navy ban e-cigarettes for safety concerns but not traditional cigarettes for health concerns?
To add to the confusion, the Navy has made it clear as well that it is providing support for smokers who would like to quit through the Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention programs; however, the smoking cessation methods listed, such as the nicotine patch and doctor-prescribed medications, have a relatively low success rate. Without the use of e-cigarettes, which is reported to have helped over six million people quit smoking in Europe, a military service member is looking at a quit success rate of roughly 25 percent.
Still, vapers in the military should count themselves as lucky; no other branch of the military has banned vaping from work areas. The Navy is also not instituting a permanent ban, meaning that it is possible the policy could be reversed in as little as a year; this remains unlikely, however, as the misinformation campaign waged against the industry is still going strong at both the state and federal levels.
What the Navy announcement said about a thorough analysis of e-cigarettes is promising, although it lacks clarification in what it means by that phrase. The analysis could mean an attention to the safety regulations of e-cigarette devices, including the advancement in technology with regards to the battery; it could also mean that it is waiting on further analysis of whether or not the devices are actually as harmful or more harmful than traditional cigarettes.
For now, however, Navy members who have e-cigarettes must give up their lithium-ion batteries to their supervising officer; the officer will then store them in plastic wrap in a secure location to ensure that no more accidents can happen on any Navy vessel or craft. Additionally, service members who are currently at sea or will be at sea when the ban takes place can request an extension on the policy until they make landfall. Whether or not the extension is granted is at the discretion of the commander of the vessel and will, therefore, be granted on a case-by-case basis.
The fact that the ban is temporary bodes well for sailors and military members; it means that the military is taking the fact that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit seriously. Although there’s no timeline in when the ban would be lifted or whether it would stay as is, it’s a good sign for those who were concerned that the military might follow in the Food and Drug Administration’s footsteps with strict regulation.
This publication will continue to update the story as it progresses.