What Everyone Ought to Know About E-Cigarettes

Electronic Cigarettes Are Dangerous

Their Exploding Batteries Have Hurt At Least 158 People

A man in Muskogee, Okla., was permanently disfigured when his electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, exploded while he was using it. A man in Berlin, N.J., needed skin grafts for a leg that was burned when an e-cigarette battery exploded in his pocket. A man in Tustin, Calif., needed to have surgery to remove part of an e-cigarette from his mouth after the e-cigarette exploded in his mouth and shattered his teeth.

How common are anecdotes like the ones listed before? A publication that reviews e-cigarettes named eCig One found 243 e-cigarette explosions from 2009 through the end of April, 2017.

The eCig One report says that 158 people were injured in the e-cigarette explosions, the explosions are becoming more common and more serious, and the publication learned about most of the 243 incidents from media reports. There is no governmental entity keeping track of the incidents. Consequently, they are underreported, eCig One reports.

“In researching this list of e-cigarette explosions, we quickly became certain of one thing: many e-cigarette explosions are never reported in the media,” the report states. “In some cases, local media might not consider the event newsworthy. In other cases, the e-cigarette’s owner might not report the event, perhaps out of embarrassment or because no serious damage was caused.”

E-cigarettes were first sold in the U.S. in 2007, according to “Electronic Cigarette Explosions and Fires: The 2015 Experience,” a report by the trade association the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). By 2014, approximately 12.6 percent of American adults had used an e-cigarette at least once, about 3.7 percent of U.S. adults were still using them, and 1.1 percent of U.S. adults were using them daily. Sales were about $1.5 billion in 2014.

E-cigarettes have been marketed as a step toward helping people quit smoking and a safer alternative to cigarettes because they don’t have most of the toxic chemicals that are in tobacco cigarettes. However, e-cigarettes have been controversial because there is limited data about their effect on people’s health and some health experts believe they can be a gateway for children and others to begin smoking tobacco cigarettes.

Until the last two or three years, though, the issue of e-cigarettes’ batteries exploding received scant attention. In fact, the 2015 NFPA report says that “E-cigarette fires and explosions are rare events” and listed only 15 for 2015.

The reporting was clearly faulty because the University of Washington Medical Center informed The New England Journal of Medicine that it treated 15 patients injured by “e-cigarette explosions due to the lithium-ion battery component” from October, 2015 through June, 2016. Twelve patients were burned by flames, five by chemicals. The explosions also caused tooth and skin loss.

“Although these explosions were previously thought to be isolated events, the injuries among our 15 patients add to growing evidence that e-cigarettes are a public safety concern that demands increased regulation as well as design changes to improve safety,” the letter signed by nine University of Washington doctors says. “In the meantime, both e-cigarette users and health care providers need to be aware of the risk of explosion associated with e-cigarettes.”

Are Batteries Being Regulated?

Until August, 2016, the U.S. government didn’t regulate e-cigarettes at all.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now regulates them as tobacco products, but it’s not clear whether it is regulating the e-cigarettes’ batteries, the University of Washington doctors write. Regulating batteries has become more important because how they’re being used is changing. Removable batteries are becoming more popular.

Because of the changes in e-cigarette technology, e-cigarette batteries are exploding more often while people are using the e-cigarettes, the eCig One report says. Of the 243 explosions, 63 occurred while the e-cigarettes were being used, 84 occurred while the batteries were being charged, 44 were the result of spare batteries that sometimes exploded in people’s pockets, and 52 “happened during transport, storage or unknown circumstances.”

“Regardless of the circumstances, e-cigarette explosions are far more likely to cause injuries today than they were in the past,” the report says.

E-cigarette users can minimize the chances that their batteries will explode by following 14 steps, however this can seem unreasonable for the average consumer to manage, illustrating why e-cig vaporizers are so dangerous.

Facts explain the e-cigarette battery problem, but a picture can be worth 1,000 words. The photos in this Los Angeles Times story graphically illustrate a victim’s injuries. The photos in this story about an Alabama teen’s injuries are so gruesome that the newspaper article warns readers that the photos might be too graphic for them.

Personal stories should also have an impact on whether government agencies decide to regulate e-cigarettes’ batteries. The eCig One report doesn’t identify the 158 injured victims by name, but this article details the stories of Katrina Williams, 26, who can’t walk without a cane and can’t work because of the burns she sustained after an e-cigarette exploded in her pocket, and Leor Domatov, 14, who is partly blind after a battery exploded in his face.

“The severity of many of the injuries and the comparatively young ages of many of the injury victims that are captured in media accounts provide additional evidence for arguments calling for greater regulatory oversight of this still new technology, particularly in light of the projected increase in sales of the product into the future,” the NFPA report says. “With a rise in e-cigarette use, it can be reasonably anticipated that the incidence of fires and explosions will also increase.”