Is Carrying Tobacco In Flight Allowed?

Tobacco was long used in the early Americas. It was in the 15th and 16th centuries when European explorers saw tobacco being used as a medicine and as a hallucinogen by Native Americans, that it became known to the world for the first time. The explorers returned to Europe with the novel plant and it was swiftly embraced by both rich and poor alike as a pronounced alternative drug. Banned initially by kings and popes, its economic effects and broad popularity forced acceptance among all cultures. It rapidly spread all over the developing world and became a foundation for the growth of the American economy1. So? Where and when exactly did it all go wrong for tobacco and its usage that we’re dealing with the question of ‘Is it allowed to carry tobacco in a flight? What are the rules available regarding this?’. Let me walk you through it, by rewinding back a little time in history.

In 1602, an unidentified English author published an essay ‘Work of Chimney Sweepers (sic)’ which declared that sickness often observed in chimney sweepers was caused by soot and that tobacco may be having similar outcomes. This was one of the earliest known instances of smoking tobacco being linked to ill health. In 1795 Samuel Thomas von Soemmerring of Maine (Germany) proclaimed that he was starting to be more conscious of cancers of the lip in pipe smokers. In 1798 the US physician Benjamin Rush authored about the medical threats of tobacco. However, it was during the 1920s that the first medical reports linking smoking tobacco to lung cancer began to appear. A series of major medical reports within the 1950s and 1960s confirmed that tobacco caused a variety of great diseases2.

As difficult as it may be to believe, there was a time in the recent past, when smoking on airplanes was commonplace. Those days are long gone, of course, but simply because you cannot smoke on a plane doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot take tobacco products with you when you fly. But you are going to need to keep a few important rules in mind when you’re traveling with cigarettes or e-cigarettes.

At present, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) doesn’t prohibit either the carriage or consumption of chewing or smokeless tobacco onboard flights. Aviation laws in other countries, just like the U.S, on the contrary, allows passengers to carry chewing tobacco but prohibits in-flight consumption of the substance.

In consonance with Rule 25 of Aircraft Rules, 1937, the DGCA Circular on Cabin Safety mentions that ‘no person shall smoke’ inside or in and around an aircraft. Besides cigarette smoking, the ban also covers Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), popularly known as e-cigarettes, personal vaporizers, vape pens, e-cigars, e-hookah, or vaping devices, all products that produce an aerosolized mixture containing flavoured liquids and nicotine inhaled by the user3.

Flying with Tobacco:

The Transportation Security Administration places no restrictions on tobacco, which suggests that you simply can bring tobacco products with you in your checked luggage and also in your carry-on bag. That includes cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and other sorts of smokeless tobacco. Needless to mention, if you are trying to light one up on the plane, you will be in some pretty predicament. But it’s fine to possess cigarettes in your luggage or on your person.

E-cigarette restrictions:

The increasing trend of vaping devices and electronic cigarettes has directed us to some new TSA rules. All vaping devices – including vaporizers, vape pens and atomizers, e-cigarettes – are permitted within the aircraft cabin only. That means you’ll have them on your person or in your carry-on, but not in your checked luggage. These items are prohibited in checked bags because many of them contain lithium batteries which will become dangerously overheated during flight.

Packs and cartons:

The TSA doesn’t restrict quantities of cigarettes, so if you want to bring over multiple packs or cartons of cigarettes with you (or bring them home), you’re generally within the clear, though it is often a better idea to see it together with your airline. U.S. Customs and Border Protection limits the amount of cigarettes you may bring into the United States from most foreign countries to 200 cigarettes, or two cartons. You can bring 1,000 cigarettes, or five crates, into the United States from American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and also the Virgin Islands.

Related items:

If you’re going to fly with cigarettes or other tobacco products, make sure you understand the rules or norms regarding tobacco paraphernalia. Here’s a list of what you can and cannot carry with you on the flight:

  • Lighters: You may carry one standard (disposable, Zippo, no torch) lighter on your person or in your carry-on bag. The Department of Transportation prohibits fuelled lighters in checked luggage, with an exemption that permits up to 2 fuelled lighters if they’re properly enclosed within a DOT-approved case. Torch-style lighters are strictly prohibited.

  • Matches: You can have one pack of ordinary safety matches on your person or in your carry-on. Matches are not allowed in checked luggage. Strike-anywhere matches are prohibited in both carry-on as well as checked luggage.

  • Tobacco pipes: Pipes are permitted in carry-on bags and in the checked luggage.

  • Cigar cutters: These are categorized as sharp items and are authorized in checked baggage only4.

In case you are going to one of the European countries, then rules regarding carrying of tobacco products certainly change. For instance, you can carry these types of items just for personal sale and not for sale. Along with that, you don’t have to follow such restriction if you’re carrying products cigarettes not more than 800, mot more than 200 cigars, and tobacco not more than 1 kg, wine less than 90 litres, cigarillos less than 400 in number and number of other products5.

Tobacco is by and largely consumed in a highly combustible way. Smoking cigars or cigarettes on an airplane and the idea of being trapped in a metal tube of smoke thousands of feet above the ground as you’re jetted off seems rather grim and highly dangerous. A cigarette butt left in the bin of the lavatory, or any of the other places in-plane is a sure way to starting an accidental fire in the flight, and nobody should have to go through such a horrific experience. To do away with any uncalled for casualties, it is imperative that the rules laid down by the national as well as international aviation agencies tasked with the regulation and oversight of civil aviation are followed and given due care and diligence for the safety of all the passengers on board as well as the airline crew. As Samuel Lover has once said in one of his novels:

“Better safe than sorry.”


1 Jason Young, The History of Tobacco and its Growth Throughout the World, Stanford University, <> accessed on 23 May 2020.

2 A Brief History of Smoking, Cancer Council, <> accessed on 23 May 2020.

4 Richard Corrigan, 8 June 2017, ‘The TSA and Cigarette Regulations’, USA Today, <> accessed on 29 May 2020

5 European Union, <> accessed on 29 May 2020

This article is authored by Siddhi P. Nagwekar, First-Year, B.A.LL.B.(Hons.) student at Karnataka State Law University.

Also Read – Laws on Smoking at Public Places in India

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