Blog Post

Reason to Quit: Apple Warranties Void for Smokers

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

I quit smoking four years ago, but before that, I was a dedicated smoker for a solid decade. Luckily, I never had any Mac trouble that would necessitate a warranty replacement during those 10 years, or I might’ve been out of luck. Apple (s aapl) has denied Applecare warranty service in at least two separate instances due to the effects of secondhand smoke, according to Consumerist.

In both cases, smoke was to blame for repairs not performed, but not because the malfunctions the computers suffered were due to damage related to cigarette smoke. Instead, the fact that the Macs had existed in houses where people smoked had resulted in the machines being labeled health risks, which was grounds for repair personnel to refuse to work on them.

It’s unclear whether or not smoking is specifically covered in the terms of Applecare, but it appears that the grounds upon which service refusals have been made is the classification of nicotine as a hazardous substance on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) list. At least, that’s what one of the people affected heard from Steve Jobs’ office, though she clearly disputes the logic used in that justification:

Dena [from Jobs’ office] did advise me that nicotine is on OSHA’s list of hazardous substances and Apple would not require an employee to repair anything deemed hazardous to their health. However, OSHA also lists calcium carbonate (found in calcium tablets), isopropyl alcohol (used to clean wounds), chlorine (used in swimming pools), hydrogen peroxide (also used to clean wounds), sucrose (a sugar), talc (as in powder), etc…as hazardous substances.

Consumerist couldn’t get an Apple representative to make an official statement regarding the company’s policy on Macs used in a smoking environment, but considering the similarity of both responses to the inquiries of the two people affected, Apple repair personnel at least reserve the right to refuse service, even if they don’t always choose to exercise that right.

As a longtime smoker (who never smoked indoors anywhere I lived, mind you), and as someone who’s had to get the cigarette smell out of at least one car before selling it, I can see people objecting to working on a computer that’s been saturated with smoke for an extended period. The smell isn’t pretty, and it might feel like the machine might be hazardous to your health — feel being the key word.

I’m no scientist, but I’m assuming it isn’t like the Apple techs cracked the case and a puff of smoke shot out. Is there really a significant danger associated with the inert remnants of what smoke leaves behind? I remain highly skeptical. Anyone else ever run into this excuse for refusing an otherwise valid Applecare repair?

30 Responses to “Reason to Quit: Apple Warranties Void for Smokers”

  1. my parents smoke all day long and our pc’s and laptop’s don’t look that bad on the inside they are only a bit dusty that’s all seems to me that if you want a pc or laptop to look that bad you’d have to be in a bar or some place where you can’t see a thing due to the smoke inside to get this result but that’s just my opinion so the 2 macbooks will have looked very bad so i agree wouldn’t repair them myself either ;)

  2. @christian h: really? i mean… really? you probably ingest tremendously more aluminum from an antacid or few that you’ll ever even theoretically absorb through your hands… it it’s even happening at all.

    More likely, the pitting isn’t your hands absorbing aluminum, but rather your skin oils tarnishing the anodization, and subsequent “rusting” of aluminum when exposed to air.

  3. Christian H.

    Yet another sad example increasing social intolerance and hysteria. As this goes on we will end up suing each other for our lifestyle choices. We’re people. People smell, have all kinds of germs, are disgustingly obese, eat gross things, wear blindingly ugly clothes, vote for the wrong party, listen to bad music way too loud and generally do all kinds of things we personally may not approve of. Can we please just get along?
    What I really want to know from Apple is, if the aluminum that my sweaty palms seem to absorb and that causes heavy ‘pitting’ on my 2nd MacBook now, will make me and the many others with the same problem sick with aluminum poisoning. Now there’s a class action case that might be worth pursuing.

  4. I think what’s missing here is what the extent of the tobacco damage was.

    I worked as a Mac Genius, and as an outside AASP tech, for many many years. I probably rejected a dozen or so tar-destroyed machines in my time, both while working for Apple and elsewhere. In a few cases, I also refused to work on them.

    But it wasn’t just because they were used by smokers. In all cases, the insides of the computers were literally destroyed by a disgusting, gooey mix of tar and dust. This miasma doesn’t just discolor, it can actually corrode internal parts; it destroys solder points, it shorts electrical connections, and it … for lack of better words … dissolves some plastics and rubbers. It also destroys bearings in case fans and other mechanical parts.

    I probably repaired several thousand computers in my time, some very large percentage were used by smokers, and their warranties were honored without issue. On very rare occasion, though, we’d see a machine that was utterly destroyed on the insides, and those warranties were not honored.

  5. Writerscramp

    >>Howie Isaacks writes: “It really grosses me out to imagine someone touching the plates that my food is on after they have been smoking.”

    There’s an old saying among cooks: “The hand that cooks your food, wipes my ass.” Tobacco on someone’s hands is the least of your worries.

    If you are too squeamish, you shouldn’t go outside; there are vehicle emissions, halitosis, perfume, and according to the UN meetings on global warming, methane gas flatulence from cows destroying the ozone layer, all equally offensive and potentially just as unhealthy.

    Regarding the actual thread: My opinion is that consumer PC’s are designed and sold to work in the average home or office, not in a commercial computer clean room where air, dust, and temperature is regulated and filtered. Smoking in your own home or personal office IS NOT ILLEGAL, therefore computers can be and are exposed to all manner of air-borne whatnot, from kitchen smoke to cat dander, dust, and yes, tobacco smoke.

    To suggest that inert nicotine stains (and the resultant smell) on a device is harmful to someone doing computer repair is the height of specious fraud – there is no airborne (so called, “second-hand”) smoke in or on the machine; smoke does not magically reappear – it dissipated days, weeks, or months ago. A “repair technician” is more likely to be injured by someone sneezing near the computer leaving germs residing in the CPU than from tobacco stains on plastic or metal.

    As a man that has not been neutered physically or psychically, I still enjoy the occasional cigar and glass of brandy, and if I choose to smoke near the computer there are no legal proscriptions prohibiting doing so, and companies like Apple cannot make a claim that OSHA prohibits working on devices with nicotine smell – the nicotine and other chemicals are not airborne, they are inert and harmless. The Apple Care warranty does not state that, “Computer equipment must pass the olfactory standards of our most sensitive technician before servicing,” that is complete nonsense.

    I’d like to see someone sue Apple for a violation of the ADA by claiming that, like an alcoholic, a tobacco smoker has a disabling addiction and Apple is discriminating against tobacco smokers.

    • I’m “psychically neutered” because I don’t smoke? First smoking was normal and desired activity and non-smokers were just weirdos who made smokers’ life complicated. Now when the things have finally changed, the defense is that non-smokers are neutered and don’t know how to enjoy life? Please.

      As jc below says, tar + dust in extreme cases can damage electronics and contacts. If you touch and repair such a machine, it can easily happen that soon something else will stop working, but then it will be Apple’s responsibility because it has been opened by their mechanics. However, I do find it troublesome that Apple can, it seems, refuse repairs at their discretion.

  6. I’ve seen iMacs that were filled with so much gunk on the inside as a result of someone smoking near them, the inside of the machine was brown and yellow. It’s disgusting! Apple should not repair computers that are abused in this way free of charge, and technicians should be able to refuse to touch them. When I worked as a Mac Genius at Willow Bend, we saw a lot of these. It shows that a lot of smokers really just don’t give a damn what damage they do to their computers, their own lungs, or to other people. They are some of the most selfish people I have ever seen. Look at the way they huddle in doorways on cold, or rainy days! The rest of us who don’t have that filthy habit have to be exposed to their filth and spend the day smelling like cigarettes because the smokers were too lazy to go someplace else! I won’t go into restaurants if I see the employees outside smoking. It really grosses me out to imagine someone touching the plates that my food is on after they have been smoking.

  7. In a past life, I worked as a repair technician on PC’s and laptops. Sure, working on machines of heavy smokers was distatseful, smelly work, it was no worse than working on a machine from a house with a massive roach infestation (yep, been there, done that) or an extremely dirty, unkept house (been there, done that too). In my experience, the smell can be bad (even for a heavy smoker), but it’s not something that any number of odor eliminators (even something as simple as Febreze) will get rid of. To be quite honest, I’d rather work on a machine from a heacy smoker than a laptop that’s been peed on (yes, sadly, been there done that too! :) ).

    As for the people screaming “OMG!!! SECONDHAND SMOKE!!!”, clam down! It’s not like the machine is spewing tobacco smoke constantly. It’s not going to hurt you, so quit crying.

  8. As a tech who’s done warranty work (for HP, Compaq and IBM), I will say that most smoker’s computers are distasteful to work on, but not _such_ a big deal… however… there have been a few where you would open up the system and the stench was overpowering, through the whole building. The first one of those, I repaired anyway, and was coughing until the next day. It was hideous. After that, I refused to work on other really really bad smoker’s systems. Out of hundreds of smoker’s systems over years, I only turned away four or five, and I think it is absolutely justified to have done so. Working on one of those systems is an assault. It is worse than someone blowing their smoke directly into your face.

  9. Apple deserves to be crucified for this. DRM is bad enough, but when Apple’s perverted-control-freak compulsions begin to intrude on the real world behavior of their victims . . . err, I mean ‘customers’, it’s long past time for an intervention.

  10. morally ambiguous

    This is pretty funny. When you consider that the biggest group of Mac users are poseur “creative” types who, by definition, must be tragically hip and that smoking is as much a requirement to being tragically hip as using a Mac, it’s ironic that the very company that overcharges these tools for their overhyped computers and phones is refusing to repair them when they break because of an aspect of the lifestyle that they themselves promote. What would Don Draper have to say about this? Everything is going to be all right?

  11. adam jackson

    AppleCare is NOT a warranty. It’s a service plan. There is some legal jargon that Apple has to put in there to protect themselves from repairing every single problem.

    For the longest time, Apple couldn’t sell it’s “AppleCare Protection Plan” to consumers in Florida (only education and small business) because of some law in Florida that required Apple make a 100 million dollar “fund” in the state of florida to protect consumers. It’s some really long and huge thing that I’d rather not try to explain here. Either way, it’s not the case anymore. I think apple was able to sell to Florida consumers in 2007.

    Anyway, since it’s not a warranty, Apple has some jargon in there that they can basically deny any and all repairs. They could deny every single repair to all AppleCare customer and legally, we can’t do anything about it.

    So despite the fact that this is a PR nightmare for Apple, they’re not legally doing anything wrong.

  12. i thought the only excuse they had for not repairing your machine was that you spilled water !

    now they have another one !! You are a smoker !

    i can easily say that during my +10 years experience with computers/laptops, apple has the worse customer support !

  13. The real magic happens AFTER the repair when you test the machine for further issues. The fans push out more smoke than you might think. The air is quickly filled with smoke and the cleanliness of any other repairs is jeopardized.

    The genius team is there to fix your mac. They deserve clean air just like everyone else within 25 feet of the apple store. :)

  14. MoonFlash

    One of the most stupid (or unprofessional) things I’ve ever heard.
    Computer is build of so many toxic materials that tar or nicotine is too healthy :)
    They just wanna avoid ensurance and save (read: steal) some money.
    What’s next? If you chat online with someone who is registrated smoker or HIV positive you will be rejected too?

  15. So they selectively refuse to repair machines, based on one substance on OSHA’s list but not many others, and you people defend this? If Apple is going to deny rapairs on machines used by smokers it should make that clear at point of sale.

    • The only problem is, I’ve seen MANY computers that look just like that when they’re in a non-smoking environment. While everyday dust may be gray in color, rather than the brownish color in the pictures, the effect is the same.

      There’s no doubt you’re doing your computer no good by smoking around it (the monitor is probably the first thing to be affected), I find this absolutely ridiculous that the manufacturer of a computer would refuse warranty repairs based on this.

    • Cigarette smoke contains tar, which in combination with dust makes things worse for the electronic circuits. However, they should mention smoking in warranty because now Apple can, seems like, refuse repair at their discretion. Not very nice if you are a customer (smoker or non smoker).

  16. Jason Cooper

    It’s not just about that, but have you seem MacBook’s insides after people have smoked around it for a year or two? It’s disgusting.

    Apple have the right to refuse service because they don’t want their employees in danger.

    I reckon it’s a good call.

    I had a repair done a few weeks ago but on the genius bar i heard a technician saying to the guy he refused repair because someone had obviously urinated on it.

    Same thing stands.