Does Second-Hand Smoke Really Void Apple's Warranty?

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Now, I am as much against smoking as anyone. I also do not want workers needlessly exposed to hazardous substances. Still, for Apple to deny warranty claims on Macs exposed to cigarette smoke seems way over the line.

Yet, that is what The Consumerist says Apple has done on at least two occasions in recent months.

Apple is apparently telling at least some customers that the amount of cigarette smoke residue inside their computers makes it unsafe for the company to perform warranty service on them, despite the lack of such a clause in the company's warranty agreement.

The Consumerist says the complaint as been raised as far as Steve Jobs' office, with no relief for the customers involved.

The story was reported on Friday, though the Consumerist said it had sought, but failed to receive, any explanation from Apple HQ over a period of months. (The site is part of the Consumers Union/Consumer Reports organization, so I deem the report credible).

Now, if this were Dell, I would send Michael an e-mail and expect to hear back. At HP, I would send e-mail to my PR contacts, likewise at most other hardware companies. I would ask first, expect the company to say a mistake had been made, and get on with my life. You would not need to read about it. Mistakes happen.

Two things about the story amaze me.

First, that Apple--presuming they are not merely trying to avoid warranty claims, which seems far-fetched--would not send the customers a refurbished Mac as a replacement for the smokehouse Macs.

Heck, they could return the smoked-up machine along with a refurb and instructions on how to put the old hard drive into the "new" machine.

Second, my hazardous materials training has taught me that however dangerous smoke residue may be, there is a way to deal with it.

With its billions, Apple could buy a containment chamber where work could be done in a completely different atmosphere from where the technician stood.

Imagine one of those chambers that lab workers use, inserting their hands through holes in the box into permanently attached gloves. Only the gloves and a set of tools from inside the box touch the computer.

If something along this line is good enough for smallpox and Ebola, it will probably protect someone from a smoky Mac.

Alternately, a self-contained breathing apparatus, such as firefighters wear, would prevent inhalation of the cigarette residue.

I suspect many wearable air filters or respirators would do the same thing. That, plus gloves and protective gown, would seem to assure safety. (Ask an expert to be sure).

Apple could also open up the smoky computers and set them outside for a while to air out.

Further, if Apple sent someone who already smokes to do the work, it is hard to say how much worse they would be for the slight additional exposure. I'll bet a smoker would even volunteer for the assignment, if only as a means of helping fellow smokers get their computers fixed.

My hope is Apple will read the stories that have begun to appear and stop this nonsense immediately. I suspect the stories about these incidents will encourage some money-hungry lawyer to find the aggrieved customers and get to the bottom of this.

I would like to say I expect to write a follow-up in which Apple has a very good explanation that makes its actions seem reasonable. I would be happy to write a story in which Apple challenges the facts, or apologizes and promises to do better.

What I expect, however, is for Apple, the company that approved the "Baby Shaker" iPhone app, to remain silent and try to wait the whole thing out.

Maybe Apple will try to dodge this issue the way they tried to dodge overheating iPhones and Snow Leopard data loss?

By adding my voice to the chorus asking Apple to explain, I hope the wait will be a little shorter.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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