What Are The Concerns Of Exploding E-Cigarettes?

by Terry Bryant

It may seem like media hype to suggest exploding e-cigarettes are a concern for consumers, but what was once considered an anomaly is now getting the attention it deserves. Millions of Americans use vapor devices as an alternative to smoking, and they do so because they believe that vaping is safer. But there is a major problem concerning the lithium-ion batteries that are installed in vaping devices, and it’s causing serious injuries.

An Unregulated Industry

It’s a dangerous combination – an industry flooded with cheaply made products and an industry that is unregulated. Even though vaping devices have been around for years, there is still little oversight of product safety and quality. This is especially dangerous where it concerns lithium-ion batteries, which are installed in nearly every vaping device on the market. Although U.S. consumers have grown accustomed to lithium-ion batteries in all of their favorite electronic devices, such as cell phones and tablets, they can be extremely dangerous if not manufactured to standard. Any defect in the battery’s manufacturing can cause it to destabilize with use, and then rupture and detonate if the conditions are right.

Because regulators haven’t caught up to the industry, there are few statistics available regarding exploding e-cigarettes. Although one such statistic comes from the U.S. Fire Administration, which confirms that between 2009 and 2014, 25 people were injured by defective vaping devices. However, this number surely underestimates the trend, as the popularity of vaping has increased dramatically in the previous few years, according to industry experts.

So, too, has the incidence rate of defective products causing injuries. Harborview Medical Center in Seattle is one of a handful of burn units that has become familiar with exploding e-cigarettes. According to the burn unit, at least one person every month is admitted to their department with injuries resulting from a malfunctioning vaping device. And in most cases, these injuries are serious enough to require skin grafting. Even then, they often leave permanent scarring.

Rachel Berven is among the victims of poorly made vaping devices. In March, she filed legal action against a retailer that, she claims, sold her a defective vaping product. Her incident occurred in February, a month prior. Berven had, like many others, switched from smoking to vaping to preserve her health, but in February, while the device was in her mouth, it exploded, tearing a gaping wound in her face, spraying battery acid across her body and legs, and cracking three of her teeth.

A Bomb in the Battery

The U.S. Fire Administration has found that battery malfunctions are the only known cause of exploding e-cigarettes, and in 80% of cases, the incident occurs when the battery is being charged. It is during charging that the battery is often stressed the most, especially if it is accidentally overcharged, which is more likely to happen when using an off-brand charger. Still, this means 20% of incidents happen while the device is in operation.

And even if the device isn’t charging, it can still present a significant risk. For example, in Scotland, a man died when his device caught fire near an oxygen tank, which then exploded violently. From an engineering standpoint, vaping devices are unique in how they behave when their batteries malfunction. Their compact design means that when the battery fails and ignites, it acts like a rocket, expelling ignited fuel (in this case, battery acid) at incredible speeds. It’s this force that produces the explosion, and also why so many victims are left with deep tissue damage as a result of the product’s failure.

With little help from regulatory agencies, it is up to consumers to choose products that can be trusted. Cheap, poorly made parts are behind most of the product failures, so consider such devices with skepticism. And when injury does occur, victims should hold the negligent manufacturers and retailers accountable.

Fortunately, this message is gaining ground, as more and more lawsuits are expected against device manufacturers and retailers in the near future.