Vape Pen Explosion Causes First E-Cig-Related Death in U.S.

by Terry Bryant

Florida authorities are still investigating the death of a man whose body was found at his home on May 5, after a vape pen apparently exploded in his face. The exact cause of death remains undetermined. The victim, 35-year-old Tallmadge D’Elia, suffered multiple injuries to his face, officials said. Firefighters were summoned by a 911 call from his neighbor in St. Petersburg after the suspected explosion set off a small fire.

According to the Pinellas County Medical Examiner’s Office, the preliminary cause of the accidental death was a “projectile wound to the head,” and the victim also suffered burns to about 80% of his body. It appeared the explosion started a fire in his bedroom where he was found.

One of the pieces removed from the victim’s head had the product’s logo – Smok-E Mountain Mech Works – based in the Philippines. Smok-E Mountain makes a particular type of vape pen which is called a “mechanical mod.” Compared with more common types of vape pens, mechanical mods typically allow users more direct access to the device’s lithium-ion battery and uses no inner circuitry to regulate the voltage.

A report from the United States Fire Administration (USFA) in 2017 reviewed 195 reports of e-cigarette-related fires and explosions from 2009 to 2016. Though none resulted in death, the USFA report specifically mentioned the prevailing use of lithium-ion batteries in  electronic cigarettes as a “new and unique hazard,” because they have already been proven to be especially prone to fires and explosions.

“No other consumer product places a battery with a known explosion hazard such as this in such close proximity to the human body,” the report stated. “It is this intimate contact between the body and the battery that is most responsible for the severity of the injuries seen in e-cigarette accidental explosions.” The report also noted that while the failure rate of lithium-ion batteries is very small, the consequences can be severe and life-altering for consumers of e-cigarettes.

As expected, the e-cigarette industry is circling the wagons to dispute the latest concerns about its products and the dangers they are suspected to pose to users.

“Today, the [mechanical mod] products are overwhelmingly used by hobbyists,” says Gregory Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association. He adds that the e-cigarettes used by most people who vape have more built-in safety features than the Smok-E Mountain device.

“Millions of adults use vapor products regularly and tragic events like this are rare,” Mr. Conley added. “The vast majority of vaping devices on the market carry the same fire risk as other products that use lithium-ion batteries, such as cellphones and laptops.”

Supporters of vaping say that e-cigarettes with nicotine can help people quit smoking. But recently critics are concerned that vape pens have gained appeal among young people and might serve as a bridge to smoking conventional cigarettes later, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

But research by the National Academies suggests that while electronic cigarettes can be addictive, e-cigarette users have significantly less exposure to potentially toxic substances than conventional smokers.

Regardless of these devices’ impact on smoking cessation, there are clearly shortcomings in our regulator’s capacity to ensure all devices are safe for users. Perhaps the tragedy in Florida will prompt lawmakers to consider measures that would impose greater scrutiny on e-cigarettes that depend on lithium-ion batteries.

If you’ve been injured by a faulty e-cigarette, we encourage you to contact Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law to schedule a free consultation. Contact us today by giving us a call or filling out our online contact form.