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I work in a backpacker hostel in Australia. Of course smoking is not allowed inside the building and there are smoke detectors in every room and corridor.

By law in Australia the smoke detectors set off a fire alarm which we are not permitted to turn off and the fire department is automatically notified. The entire hostel must be evacuated until they arrive and only they are permitted to turn off the alarm. Even in the middle of the night and bad weather. The charge for a false alarm is nearing $1,000.

A couple of weeks ago I saw for the first time a guest "vaping" an e-cigarette. It emits a vapour that looks similar to cigarette smoke. He told me that it's fine to use these things in doors.

But I wonder, do smoke detectors specifically and only detect smoke particles? Is there zero possibility that e-cigarette vapour could ever set off a smoke detector?

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Dear mods, the "e-cigarettes" and "vaping" tags are intended to be made tag synonyms of the smoking tag. –  hippietrail Aug 9 at 9:38
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I just did a little test, I have an e-cig and I have smoke detectors in my place, I smoked under it and the vapor does not reach it, because it is mostly water vapor and it disappears quickly. Second test was smoking directly to the detector, after 10 heavy puffs it was activated for one beep only. So, I guess smoking ecigs in rooms will not activate smoke detectors, but smoking directly to it might activate it. –  MeNoTalk Aug 9 at 9:59
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I know a little about smoke detectors, and I also know that humidity can set them off (in aircrafts lavatories we see that in long flights if lavatories were not open for long times). So, by the book they can be set off by water vapor, but out of my experience in as a smoker, it never happened to me. –  MeNoTalk Aug 9 at 10:10
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@hippietrail If you replace hostel with supermarket or library the question suddenly wouldn't be relevant. My point is it's not an issue inherent to travel, but more to a workplace. So maybe it's more relevant at workplace.stackexchange.com –  Bart Arondson Aug 9 at 10:53
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@hippietrail Forbid the use of e-cigarettes inside, mostly for health reasons of other guests, see: sciencenews.org/article/health-risks-e-cigarettes-emerge –  Bernhard Aug 9 at 11:31

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

The answer is 'it depends' - on the type of smoke detector an how close the smoker is to the alarm, how much vapor is produced etc.

For the optical sensor type firealarms here is a demonstration they can be set off by vapor - while here is one that demonstrates they're not. I.e. depends on how much vapor you have and how often it is blown into the detector.

That said, it seems quite unlikely such a sensor would be triggered by vapor in normal circumstances - but as you mention in comments, sitting on top of a bunk bed, with a low ceiling may be a different matter.

More modern sensors based on ionization/CO detection should not be triggered by vapor, see here for instance.

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To be fair I think it's also kinda hard to set off a detector with a real cigarette if you're not close to the detector. But it's possibly a bunch of people in a room could make the whole room smoky enough to do it in a way that wouldn't happen in a room full of vapers. –  hippietrail Aug 9 at 12:35
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Although I don't smoke, I can tell from experience that the old type optical sensor smoke alarms are relatively easy to set off with cigarette smoke - two or three people smoking in a normal sized room may easily be enough. –  greyshade Aug 9 at 13:45

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