electronic cigarette
A man uses an e-cigarette, an electronic substitute in the form of a rod, which is slightly longer than a normal cigarette. Reuters

Earlier this week, electronic cigarette manufacturer Gamucci opened what has been billed as the first indoor airport venue where passengers can enjoy e-cigarettes in the International Departures Lounge of Terminal 4 at London Heathrow. The so-called “vaping zone,” adjacent to the duty-free shops, lets fliers smoke e-cigarettes and sample Gamucci’s line of products.

The new 30-square-meter (325-square-foot) Gamucci Zone restricts entry to those 18 and over and is open from 5:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily. Taz and Umer Sheikh, co-founders of Gamucci, said they are frequent travelers themselves who identify with “the frustrations smokers endure” when they go through security.

“We hope our vaping zone will offer an environment to satisfy their cravings,” they said in a joint statement ahead of the launch. “Heathrow is the busiest airport in Europe, with millions of passengers through each year from all of the world. The Gamucci Zone at Heathrow complements our positioning as a global brand sold in 55 countries worldwide.”

According a recent study from Euromonitor International, global sales of e-cigarettes are now worth $2 billion, with the U.K., U.S., Russia and Germany comprising the largest markets. Independent consumer research company Nielsen points to Gamucci as the fastest-growing brand in the U.K. among an increasingly crowded field of competitors.

Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes don’t produce smoke but rather vapor. Gamucci claims that all of its products are non-combustible and allow smokers “to enjoy nicotine without any of the by-products of combustible tobacco.” Several institutions, however, including the British Medical Association, advise that e-cigarettes should be included on traditional smoking bans in public spaces.

“Electronic cigarettes are subject to the same restrictions as standard cigarettes and therefore cannot be used inside terminal buildings, except in the designated e-cigarette lounge in Terminal 4,” Heathrow notes on its website. “They can be carried on your person, but please check with your airline on whether they are allowed on board the aircraft.”

Though the device falls into a gray area in terms of where and when it can be used, nearly all U.S. and European airlines have individually banned e-cigarettes in recent years.

In Britain, as is the case elsewhere, an increasing number of other places have barred the use of e-cigarettes, including trains, planes, bars and restaurants, making Heathrow Airport a notable exception to the trend. Health officials worry that the emerging product could expose more people to nicotine addiction and lure the younger generation to tobacco products.

However, Heathrow’s move appears to be a popular one. A survey of 1,000 travelers conducted by travel search engine Skyscanner found that a majority of people (57 percent) surveyed wouldn’t object to other airports following suit and licensing similar vaping zones. Sentiment was considerably higher among smokers (70 percent) than among nonsmokers (50 percent).

Less than half of travelers (40 percent) were in favor of vaping zones onboard the actual aircraft, though 64 percent of smokers said they’d consider buying and using them onboard if they were available.