The man, whose name was withheld, was detained and questioned by airport and federal authorities, said Steve Johnson, a spokesman for the Port of Portland.
Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, said he was held on a federal detainer pending formal charges, likely Wednesday morning.
Continental Airlines Flight 1118 was scheduled to depart for Houston at 12:16 p.m. The man turned on the “e-cigarette” sometime after takeoff.
“He was asked to not do that and was not cooperative,” Johnson said.
The flight returned to PDX about 1:15 p.m. and was met by law enforcement, said Christen David, a Continental spokeswoman. The passenger and his companion were taken off, and the flight resumed to Houston about an hour later.
Most electronic cigarettes do not burn tobacco. Instead, a lithium battery heats a liquid nicotine solution, which creates a vapor inhaled by the user.
Proponents say the devices allow users to satisfy nicotine addiction and act like they’re smoking without ingesting the chemicals in real cigarettes.
Current federal law prohibits smoking tobacco products on commercial planes but does not mention e-cigarettes. In September, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced plans to explicitly ban the devices, perhaps as early as this spring.
But e-cigarettes are currently not prohibited by the Transportation Security Administration, spokeswoman Tina Burke said Tuesday.
However, Continental Airlines bans “the use of electronic, simulated smoking materials” including cigarettes, pipes and cigars on its flights.