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Apple Voiding Smokers' Warranties? 1078

Posted by Soulskill
from the a-what-a-day-keeps-the-doctor-away dept.
Mr2001 writes "Consumerist reports that Apple is refusing to work on computers that have been used in smoking households. 'The Apple store called and informed me that due to the computer having been used in a house where there was smoking, [the warranty has been voided] and they refuse to work on the machine "due to health risks of second hand smoke,"' wrote one customer. Another said, 'When I asked for an explanation, she said [the owner of the iMac is] a smoker and it's contaminated with cigarette smoke, which they consider a bio-hazard! I checked my Applecare warranty and it says nothing about not honoring warranties if the owner is a smoker.' Apple claims that honoring the warranty would be an OSHA violation. (Remember when they claimed enabling 802.11n for free would be a Sarbanes-Oxley violation?)"
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Apple Voiding Smokers' Warranties?

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  • Wash it (Score:5, Funny)

    by EgNagRah (1650283) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:22AM (#30184412)
    Does putting it in the dishwasher void the warranty?
    • Re:Wash it (Score:5, Funny)

      by Kugrian (886993) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @12:18PM (#30184998) Homepage

      Only if there's ashtrays in the dishwasher.

    • Re:Wash it (Score:4, Informative)

      by earnest murderer (888716) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @12:42PM (#30185282)

      Maybe not, but it doesn't excuse not honoring the warranty.

      I don't think anyone is demanding they work on it. They're just as welcome to replace the device.

      • Re:Wash it (Score:4, Informative)

        by chudnall (514856) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:22PM (#30186244) Homepage Journal

        Having done computer repairs for heavy smokers, I would void the warranty just for the damage it does to the electronics. There is nothing as disgusting as the inside of a smoker's computer. After a few months, the tar will have completely enveloped the heatsink, power supply, and every fan in the system. Sometimes it's so thick that the air cans can't blow it out. I've replaced a lot of fried motherboards because of this.

        • Re:Wash it (Score:4, Informative)

          by Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @09:14PM (#30189814)
          I've been an ex smoker for quite a few years now and it is a bad habit. But I have to say your claim is unadulterated BS. I've built, rebuilt and modded my own machines for years while I was a heavy smoker and have NEVER seen anything like what you're claiming. I don't know why you would bother to invent something that is so obviously untrue but it is both amazing and depressing that people are so unquestioning as to accept it as "informative."
        • Re:Wash it (Score:5, Informative)

          by L'ano Itar (839614) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @09:38PM (#30190006) Homepage

          As a reformed heavy-smoker who also smoked in a room full of computers, I'll call your bull... er, bluff on this one. I generally take apart my computers once a year or so to blow out the dust and remove the cat fur that inevitably clogs the intakes. I've never had an issue with tar on heatsinks, nor premature failure of components. Some of my machines were in constant use for up to a decade before finally being retired.

          Non-smokers whining about the smell of old tobacco is one thing, but when we resort to lies to "prove" a point, there is no argument.

        • Re:Wash it (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Z80xxc! (1111479) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @09:45PM (#30190078)
          Exactly. If you eat an icecream cone above your Mac and it drips all over and melted ice cream gets inside the computer, that's not covered under warranty. If you never dust off your computer and it dies from overheating, I doubt that's covered either. Eating an ice cream cone is legal, as is neglecting to dust your computer. Nevertheless, they're both things which are neglectful and thus should not be covered.
        • I call bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

          by anw (42556) on Sunday November 22, 2009 @01:40AM (#30191244)

          This is A-Grade bullshit. I have been a chain smoker for five years. You could probably tarmac a small freeway from all the crap that has fallen into my keyboard. But there is no tar whatsoever on my heatsinks or fans. I just cleaned them last week ( after five years ) and there is dust, yes, but no tar.

          The most disgusting computer I ever saw was one kept in a screen-printing factory with a concrete floor. Grey dust 2mm thick over the whole motherboard. Can people refuse warranty service on computers because they don't like your carpet?

          Take your anti-smoking FUD and stick it somewhere else.

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:23AM (#30184418) Homepage Journal

    Can this actually be legal? Smoking is ( currently at least ) legal, so how can they penalize a smoker?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:25AM (#30184448)

      Screwdrivers are legal too, but use one on your Apple and bang goes that warranty

    • by eln (21727) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:28AM (#30184480) Homepage
      If it was in the agreement, I don't see why it wouldn't be legal. Since smokers are not a protected class, they can be discriminated against by private industry without any legal repercussions.

      Of course, if it's not in the agreement, you could argue breach of contract (or whatever the particular legal term would in this case) because they're trying to impose additional conditions on the warranty after it's already been purchased.
      • by Brad Mace (624801) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:46PM (#30186480) Homepage

        I can't say whether this new policy is in line with their warranty, but I don't see how anyone would make a case that it's discriminatory even where smokers are a protected class. They are targeting the smoke itself, not the smokers. If you're a smoker but you don't do it around your computer, or it just happens to be reasonably clean, you're going to be fine. If you don't smoke, but you like to store your computer in your chimney flue, they're still going to refuse to work on it.

        On the other hand, smoke residue is hardly the most dangerous or disgusting thing anyone has had to deal with on the job, and using OSHA as an excuse seems pretty weak. If they just acknowledged that they're going to treat excessive smoke exposure the same way they would excessive heat or humidity, that would seem entirely reasonable.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bert64 (520050)

      Because it's a choice, and you can legally penalize someone for doing something detrimental which they chose to do...
      In many places, if you are interviewing someone for a job your not allowed to consider their ethnicity or gender (over which they obviously have no control), but if they smoke you can use that as your reason for choosing someone else.

      I could use a computer in an environment where it gets no ventilation, and that would void the warranty if they could see evidence of how it was used... I can sm

  • Ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:23AM (#30184422)

    They have an obligation to the customer under the terms of the warranty. They also have an obligation to their employees. They need to honor both, not pick and choose. If they really believe that opening the computer represents a health threat then they need to issue protective clothing and breathing apparatus to their employees. Simple as that. OSHA does not prohibit working with dangerous materials (manufacturing and maintaining computers DOES involve doing so), it just requires proper safety procedures be observed when doing so. The possibility of working with computers that have been exposed to cigarette smoke was not unknown or plausibly considered to be remote at the time when these warranties were issued.

    • Re:Ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:48AM (#30184690)

      Customers also have an obligation to themselves to not buy from companies with a history of fucking over customers for the stupidest of reasons.

      No consumer is surprised when they buy a computer running Microsoft Windows, and two weeks later it's infested with malware. They make the purchase knowing that they're getting a sub-par operating system with poor security.

      The same should go for anyone buying Apple products. When you buy an iPod, you should realize that you have no power to change the battery, for instance. When you buy one of their computers, you should realize that you'll probably get screwed on some stupid policy like this smoking-household one.

      If you don't want to get fucked by Apple's policies, deal with a more responsible company.

    • Re:Ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

      by toppavak (943659) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @12:15PM (#30184964)
      Its a similar situation with warrantied computers that have been vomited or urinated upon, having been to a university where all students who bought a computer received accidental damage coverage, if one of these things were to happen, Lenovo simply replaced the computer and disposed of the "contaminated" one. If Apple is making a stand on the safety of their workers they should honor the warranty and replace the computer.
  • I'm a PC... (Score:5, Funny)

    by jesseck (942036) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:24AM (#30184428)
    and I get to smoke in my own house, while browsing the Internet (for porn)
  • yes and no (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lee n. field (750817) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:26AM (#30184456)
    The "biohazard" stuff is crap.

    That said, I can always tell when a computer I'm working on has a smoker for an owner. The smoke leaves a yellowish to brownish residue. Dust sticks to it. In the worst case I can recall seeing, cooling slots were blocked by congealed fuzzy crap.

    It's nasty, and I can see it contributing to component failure in bad cases.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Gordonjcp (186804)

      It's nasty, and I can see it contributing to component failure in bad cases.

      Straight off the obvious cause of failure is by blocking vents and jamming fans. I recently repaired a radio base station that had been used in a smoking environment (tucked away in the corner of a security control room). Despite the ban on smoking in the workplace coming into force several years ago, the sticky residue was still attracting huge amounts of dust, which was causing the radios (in particular the transmitter) to over

    • Re:yes and no (Score:5, Informative)

      by Slurm (147172) <slashdot&derekchiles,net> on Saturday November 21, 2009 @12:10PM (#30184920)

      The "biohazard" stuff is crap.

      Well, third-hand smoke [nytimes.com] is considered by at least some docs to be a direct cancer risk.

      Among the substances in third-hand smoke are hydrogen cyanide, used in chemical weapons; butane, which is used in lighter fluid; toluene, found in paint thinners; arsenic; lead; carbon monoxide; and even polonium-210, the highly radioactive carcinogen that was used to murder former Russian spy Alexander V. Litvinenko in 2006. Eleven of the compounds are highly carcinogenic.

  • The solution is... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xelios (822510) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:31AM (#30184516)
    Gloves and a face mask.
  • by attie (1610995) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:34AM (#30184554)
    Look at this [bit-tech.net] and tell me that you wouldn't run screaming if someone asked you to repair that. Also, the way smoke is clogging up that fan, I'm thinking that smoking around a computer is a decent reason to void your warranty. Like using your phone in the rain. The harm came to the unit through your own negligence...
  • by Cornwallis (1188489) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:42AM (#30184636)

    After all, 90% of U.S. currency has traces of cocaine on it. I'm pretty sure the Apple store is dealing.

  • by harmonise (1484057) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:44AM (#30184644)

    Who the hell smokes indoors? That's fucked up.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:45AM (#30184656)

    I used to work as a computer technician to pay my tuition.

    Computers that had either failed or seized up due to nicotine/tar build up were impossible to clean, and nearly impossible to repair. The nasty build-up got literally everywhere, clogging heatsinks, coating voltage regulators, caps, expansion slots, and other devices that depend on air convection to stay cool. The only way to get these machines running stably again was usually massive part replacement.

    If smoking doesn't constitute improper operation, it should. For all the people bitching out there, smoking has been demonstrated to cause premature failure to humans, particularly second-hand smoke which contains a Noah's Ark of nasty bacteria and pathogens. WHy is it such a surprise that it also kills sensitive electronic equipment?

  • I'm not surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Trevin (570491) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:48AM (#30184696) Homepage

    They've also refused service on devices where their litmus indicator shows signs of turning pink (http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=9214797 [apple.com], http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/04/14/smart.phones.buggy/index.html [cnn.com], http://techgeist.net/2009/09/apple-iphone-abuse-detection-sensors-abusing-2/ [techgeist.net]). It sounds like they're still looking for more excuses not to honor their "warranty."

    I won't be buying any more Apple products.

    • Re:I'm not surprised (Score:5, Informative)

      by Vidar Leathershod (41663) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @12:50PM (#30185366)

      This came about as a direct result of people falsely claiming against the warranty when there was known water exposure. All modern cell phones and their batteries have this feature as well, and there are absolutely times when the sensors (really just a system by which a striped ink pattern bleeds to stain the material when wet enough) have been triggered by humid weather, or condensation.

      As for you not "buying any more Apple products", likely you weren't a customer before this. I have heard this same tired old statement again and again. Yet Apple sells more and more every year, and maintains their reputation as the most customer friendly consumer electronics company. That's not to say they are perfect, and there are plenty of things they do that annoy me. Comparing them with the competition, though, they are the best to work with, and give the most discretion to their employees to override policy of any of the major firms.

      Regarding cigarette smoke and OSHA, I would say they definitely took the wrong angle and are likely technically incorrect. At the same time, while I approve of people being able to smoke if they want, smoking near computers shortens their life significantly, due to the gummy deposits that form on the components, heatsinks and fans, and vents. I have cleaned off many computers in this condition, replaced fans if needed, etc. I charge for the time. I also stink like a couple of thousand stale old cigarettes until I shower. When you have an employee working an 8 hour shift, it would be abusive to force them to clean a computer in this condition and suffer for the rest of the day.

      The submitter to Consumerist is an ass who knows exactly how nasty his computer is, can see the gummy deposits, etc. which occurred due to very close proximity smoking at the computer's location. His screen is probably nasty, too. And it's not like this is new information. Smoking near computers has long been known as a really bad idea.

  • Two Thumbs UP! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TravisHein (981987) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @11:49AM (#30184710)

    For once I am pleased with Apple's quirky business policies.

    In addition to being a biohazard, enough smoking over time by many people seems to actually deposit a greassy residue on the inside of the computer parts, like the heat sinks, integrated circuits, fan blades. I used to be the IT administrator for an office of a dozen people, back when it was somehow allowed to smoke indoors in the office while you work. And the style was for everyone to smoke. As a non smoker I was a minority, and had to put up with working in that mess.

    But for the computer parts, after about six months the parts looked as though someone had sprayed them with PAM cooking oil, and then dusted with ashes. All chunder stuck on fuzzy layer of dust bunnies, and "that" smell of 1000 cigarettes. We went through a lot of computers because of the lack of ability for the parts to cool themselves with the ambient air circulation inside the cases.

    So my fendangled point was, it is not fair for Apple, or any computer company to have to honor warranty claims for computers that were subjected to the abuse of a smoker, as the hardware was subjected to environmental conditions that was not in any of the designed intended use. For example, if I put my computer through a dish washer, they would have the equal right to not honor my warranty claim, as I 'intentionally damaged' it in much the same way. I would like to see other companies start doing this too.. Buy a car? Did you smoke in it ? Oh, now it has no resale value, sorry.

    • Then it's fraud (Score:4, Insightful)

      by davidwr (791652) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @01:19PM (#30185666) Homepage Journal

      About 15-20% of adults smoke. The number for Apple users may be somewhat lower due to the younger and more "chic" demographic.

      In any case, at the time Apple was designing its warranty coverage, it knew smoking by its customer or others in the household or business was not so rare or so offbeat that it would be reasonable to exclude it, nor is it obvious to consumers that smoking is bad for the equipment.

      At the time of the sale, Apple had 3 choices:
      *specifically and prominently state that the warranty is void if the computer is exposed to tobacco smoke
      *plan on honoring the warranty
      *set the stage for a fraud lawsuit

      Since they didn't due the first one, they get to pick from the next two.

    • Re:Two Thumbs UP! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BrianRoach (614397) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @01:33PM (#30185814)

      You might actually have a point ... if they also voided warranties for people who owned pets.

      Or lived in dusty climates. Or where computers were used in places like ... motorcycle shops. Or, any of the myriad of conditions that would have the exact same effect on the computer.

      See, this is yet another example of where the logic of singling out one stupid little thing while ignoring 10 million others somehow makes sense.

      I own dogs and live in a high desert climate ... it requires regular cleaning of the PCs with an air compressor. The fans suck in dog hair like you wouldn't believe, and there's *always* dust here in the summer no matter what you do. I can gauge the "cleaning cycle" by how much the variable speed fans are running in the box (which right now is at "You should really clean me" by the amount of noise coming from the machine)

      I also used to run a motorcycle shop. You should see what those PCs look like after a while, especially the one that's used to run the dynamometer. (Badly running vehicles spit out a lot of soot, not to mention all the other residues from various vapors from cleaning chemicals)

      So ... exclude everything else that could possibly harm the PC, and you have a point. Otherwise, you're picking one little thing out of many simply because the cause has become a socially unacceptable behaviour.

  • by Kartoffel (30238) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @12:07PM (#30184892)

    I've seen more computers clogged with cat hair than I've seen clogged with cigarette ash.

    • by canajin56 (660655) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @12:37PM (#30185212)
      Bullshit, in 6 months I build up enough shit on my air vents to almost partially block them (almost), and most of it is dust, not cat hair. Meanwhile, a buddy in highschool had two smoking parents. They got their first computer and within a month it was crashing. Opened it up, entire thing was coated in yellow greasey shit that smells like smoke, and dust sticks to it. Tried using canned air, nope, had to wipe it off by hand. Nastiest thing ever, and no shit it's a health hazard to get near it. But even wiping it doesn't get the greasy tar off, it's on there forever, and more dust will just cement to it immediately. Smoking near a computer should void the warranty, as you're intentionally causing damage to the cooling components.
      • by BrianRoach (614397) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @01:43PM (#30185900)

        Sorry, but as you say, bullshit.

        Unless you're chain smoking 3 packs a day in a small, closed room while exhaling directly into the thing ... not happening.

        I smoked for 20 years, and owned who knows how many computers during that time ... none of them have ever resembled what you describe.

        I now live in a high desert climate and we own two dogs. That requires regular, thorough cleaning or the things will overheat. It also can really reduce the life of the fans. (Same goes for my stereo receiver, and a couple other consumer boxes)

        And as I also posted in another thread, I used to run a motorcycle shop. You should see what those PCs go through, especially the one used to run the dynamometer.

        So ... unless you want to exclude the 10 million other environments that can have a detrimental effect on the PC, you're simply picking one because the cause has become socially unacceptable by a large group of people.

  • by russg (64596) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @12:09PM (#30184910) Homepage

    I've worked on computers from time to time and the worst are those from people who burn candles or that seem to have way too much perfume in their home. The candles leave residue just like smoking. Oh and don't forget the fur-balls when the computer sits on the floor with a cat in the house.

    I suppose Apple will void the warranties on those folks too?

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @12:13PM (#30184940)

    Mine complains about my brownish-yellow stained computer cables every time I have my servers in for service (yes, I smoke in the server room, sue me). But mostly because they care about my health and don't want to lose a good customer to the coughing death.

    Oh, maybe my service fee is higher than what you pay at Apple. But it includes face masks to protect their techs, it seems. I'm fairly sure you get them cheaply from a lot of governments that bought tons of masks during the last flu craze but nobody wanted to wear them in public because they make you look like a paranoid loonie.

  • by RickRussellTX (755670) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @12:13PM (#30184942)

    The issue is not whether smoking is legal or illegal; there are plenty of legal things you can do a computer that would void the warranty. If they're going to make this argument, they simply need to support the claim that the damage to the computer goes beyond normal wear and tear.

    For example, computers in chemical labs often fail because small amounts of airborne chemicals attack the PC boards and chassis. I've worked on boxes that look like they'd been strapped to the bottom of a battleship for a few years.

    Having seen the office accommodations of some chain smokers, I can't say I blame Apple. I've seen environments where every surface is coated with brown, sticky residue and a multi-millimeter thick layer of dust and ash.

  • by v1 (525388) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @12:16PM (#30184978) Homepage Journal

    I fix computers for a living, and I will vouch for the pain that is working on a "three pack a day" computer. It's not terribly bad as long as they keep a clean house, but when there's a lot of dust in the machine, AND they're a very heavy smoker, the entire inside of the computer is filled with a matte of dustbunny solidified by tar. It's a dark mustard looking soft foam and reeks to high heaven, and when you touch it, it wipes off on your hands like ash AND sends a fine dark yellow cloud up into the air. Takes 5 minutes of hand scrubbing to get most of it off after you're done working on it.

    I don't think I'd call it a "biohazard", as there's not a lot of chance of my inhaling any nicotine, but it's certainly unpleasant to work on. It also tints the entire machine a dingy yellow, especially the white plastics and the front of LCD panels. It also kills optical drives. (clouds the laser lens) Occasionally we get in a machine that looks ok, but reeks of tar when you pick it up. When we open it up, it's obviously a heavy smoker's computer, that they took the time to clean the outside case before bringing it in. "surprise!"

    Most computers have active air cooling, and function like air filters. If you're filling the air with nasty, you should expect a lot of it to collect inside your computer, and nobody likes dealing with that.

    Twice we've had to refuse warranty repair for a killed optical drive, and once a smoker wanted us to replace (under warranty) an LCD panel that had "become discolored". No, really? Like the WALLS and CURTAINS in your house? ick ick ick.

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