When South West Airlines Flight 3654 took off from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, no one expected any problems.
But one passenger was suffering from nicotine withdrawal.
So part way through the flight he sneaked off to the toilets to stealth vape.
But shortly after he, along with the rest of the passengers, had a massive shock when the plane’s fire alarms went off.
The pilot was forced to make an emergency landing, with all departure lounges cleared.
There’s no record of what happened to the passenger, but it is likely he received a hefty fine.
Some people will tell you that vapour can’t set off smoke alarms.
We wanted to find out if vapes can set off fire alarms, so we decided to blow vapour directly into a fire alarm. Here’s what happened:
Now, that’s a bit extreme. In the example above, Tom blew directly into a smoke alarm. Both Tom and I vape in the office all the time, and I’ve never set off an alarm until I blew straight into one, even when using the sub-ohm battery and having a cloud chasing competition with our mixologist. (It’s a hard life working for an e-cigarette company )
According to Alan Morgan from St Davids Fire, even a bit of cigarette smoke shouldn’t set off modern fire alarms, which have been designed to avoid false alarms.
Nevertheless, if you do use your e-cig indoors, or even worse on an aeroplane (please don’t – the consequences can be serious, as Rory Sutherlend found out when he spent a night in jail in Qatar), your e-cigarette could set off an alarm. That’s especially the case if you blow large clouds!
(If you’re a bit absent minded like me, it might be worth keeping your e-cig out of easy reach when on a plane!)
There are different kinds of fire alarms. Vapour is more likely to set off some of these alarms than others.
Ionisation alarms: Sensitive to small particles of smoke. They utilise two electrically charged radioactive plates. When smoke particles enter the fire alarm they disrupt the electricity between the plates, setting off the alarm. This was the type used in our experiment!
Optical alarms: Optical alarms work by beaming infrared light. When smoke particles enter the smoke alarm, the particles cause the infrared light to be scattered onto a light detector which triggers the alarm.
Heat alarms: Used in kitchens, these are unlikely to detect vapour as they are responsive to heat rather than to smoke.
When we spoke to South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, they told us that optical alarms are the type most likely to be set off by electronic cigarette vapour. However, our experiment showed that vapour can set off ionisation alarms too.
Fortunately, reports of electronic cigarettes setting off fire alarms are rare. Smoke alarms are designed to detect smoke, and electronic cigarettes produce vapour. Fortunately, vapour dissipates a lot faster than smoke.
However, the use of PG and flavourings in e-liquids is thought to create larger particles than the average steam from a kettle. According to Ohio University, fog machines, which contain propylene glycol too, can also set off fire alarms.
So, setting off the average fire alarm is unlikely – but still possible.
Hotels vary in vape policy – some expressly forbid vaping, while others do not have a vape policy.
Even if the hotel does not have a policy on vaping, if you set off the smoke alarm they might assume you have been smoking and fine you.
Hotels often have more sensitive fire alarms than your standard office or house alarm. And when Tom was vaping in a Premier Inn, he noticed that the smoke alarm had started to flash red.
Meanwhile, one poor Reddit commenter set off his hotel alarm at 7am in the morning, woke up the whole hotel and was asked to pay a $200 fine.
Fire alarms in planes are extremely sensitive. Most, if not all airlines, do not allow you to use standard e-cigs in planes (although some airlines do sell vapourless versions).
As we saw earlier, some people have spent a night in jail for using an e-cig on Qatar Airways. That was an extreme example, but you could easily have your e-cig confiscated, have to pay a hefty fine or even be added to a no-fly list.
In the UK you are not allowed to vape on most trains (or train station platforms) or buses either.
Obviously, you shouldn’t vape when there is a policy against it.
Whilst policies are sometimes unfair, you personally risk a fine. It can also give a bad name to vapers!
However, there are places where you are allowed to vape which do have a fire alarm.
Our office and warehouse is one example. And yes, someone did set the fire alarm off once, causing the whole building to be evacuated :(
This is a great example of a time when it’s fine to vape, but you still need to think about being discreet.
Here are some sensible ideas to minimise setting off the fire alarm. Whatever you do, though, don’t disable the fire alarm. There are 37,000 house fires a year in the UK alone, and it’s just not worth putting your life or others at risk.
1. Blow away from the smoke alarm
First, note where the smoke alarm is, and ensure you blow vapour away from it.If you work in an office, try to locate your desk away from the alarm. In the case where our staff member set off the alarm, we actually moved his desk so it wouldn’t happen again.
2. Open the window
The air will help dissipate the vapour. For maximum safety, blow the vapour outside through the window.
3. Use a discreet device
Usually , you should use a higher resistance coil (typically above 1 ohm), although some modern coils use resistances of below 1 ohm for Mouth-to-Lung vaping.
The Hexa devices are great example of closed pod systems which don't produce a whole lot of vapour, but still provide a satisfying vape.
Even if using a discrete device, you should still take care to keep vapour away from a smoke alarm.
4. Use high PG e-liquid
It’s also worth thinking about the e-liquid you use.
High VG e-liquids produces larger clouds of vapour and is not suitable for discreet vaping. They also work better with powerful devices, and not with the discreet devices we’ve featured above.
5. Don't Disable the Fire Alarm
Even if you're concerned about setting off the alarm, never disable it. This can put lives at risk and may also be illegal.
6. Follow Local Policies and Laws
If you are in a place with clear policies against vaping, it is best to follow those rules to avoid any trouble, including setting off alarms.
Don’t believe people who tell you vaping can’t set off fire alarms.
It can - and it has got a number of people into trouble.
The best option is to follow vape-free policies. If you are vaping where you are allowed to - ditch the sub-ohm mod for a while and use a discreet device that is less likely to set off a fire alarm.
And whatever you do, don’t blow vapour into the smoke alarm!
Have you ever set off a fire alarm with an e-cigarette, or do you know of someone who has? Let us know in the comments.