Here is a shocking fact: the high-tech plasma lighters you see being sold online are actually not lighters at all. They are miniature stun guns. A few years ago, some genius figured out that you can stick objects inside the high voltage arc of electricity and voila – you have fire. Just don’t try it with metal.
As you can see in the picture above, the two products are fundamentally identical. Two visible electrodes are mounted at the top and are used to transmit a high voltage current of electricity between. These devices are typically powered by an internal lithium-ion battery (rechargeable) and can last upwards of two years before suffering losses in battery efficiency.
While most of us can agree that these plasma lighters look really cool, the question must be asked: are they actually good for anything?
Common Problems With Plasma Lighters
Due to the short distance between the electrodes, it’s easy for ash and other miscellaneous debris to come into contact with the electrodes. The intense amount of heat being generated in this small area actually flash-heats the debris to the surface of the electrodes which makes it virtually impossible to clean. Any tobacco smoker that has actually used these lighters will be able to attest that most iterations of plasma lighters are simply useless for igniting cigarettes or cigars.
Does anyone remember the exploding Chinese hoverboards from last year? Well, similar issues have been noted in plasma lighters. Inferior quality lithium-ion cells have been known to overheat, melt, leak, catch fire, and even violently explode. Admittedly, not every manufacturer is guilty of using low quality lithium-ion cells but these seem to be the exception, not the rule.
Advantages of Plasma Lighters
Plasma lighters are more environmentally friendly than traditional lighters. While the environmental impact of butane and lighter fluid is arguably negligible, it certainly does not hurt to generally be more mindful. Some researchers even argue that the butane vapors from lighters are actually inhaled by smokers in small amounts and can create health risks. Plasma lighters do not suffer from this issue.
Perhaps the most notable advantage of plasma lighters is their resistance to the elements. Wind can certainly put out the flame of a traditional lighter; however, it doesn’t stand a chance against the supercharged arc of electricity firing between two prongs. If you’re trying to light a fire on a windy day, the plasma lighter is a clear winner.
Plasma lighters are interesting gadgets but largely remain a novelty due to inherent design limitations. The short distance required between the electrodes prevents larger objects (like cigars) from being easily lit. Since this distance is largely dictated by the power of the electric current, there is no feasible solution other than to increase the size of the device.