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Growing Number of People Burned, Injured by Exploding E-Cigs

November 7, 2016

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

But Industry Says Lithium-ion Batteries Explode Equally Elsewhere, Too

You’ve certainly heard that cigarettes are bad for your health.  You may have heard that electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, are bad for your health.  But you’ve probably not heard that e-cigs are bad for your health because they can literally explode in your face.

A letter in the Oct. 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine now calls for attention and political action on the issue.  Author Dr. Elisha Brownson of the Seattle-based University of Washington Regional Burn Center says that she has treated 22 people for burns and other injuries caused by exploding e-cigs since October 2015.

And a number of other people across the country of all ages were burned and/or injured in recent months, some quite seriously, by exploding e-cigarettes.  In fact, days before Gazette #144 went to print, a man was burned in Manhattan’s Grand Central Station when his e-cig exploded.

According to Dr. Brownson, the explosions are caused by the powerful lithium-ion batteries used in e-cigarettes.  The rechargeable batteries charge a heating coil that brings liquid nicotine and flavorings to the boiling point inside the device, creating an inhalable vapor.

But when some of the batteries overheat, it can cause a fire or explosion, and resulting variety of serious burns and blast injuries.

However, the American Vaping Association counters that lithium-ion batteries are an equal threat in cellphones or laptops, saying that the letter neglected to mention explosions in those devices, too.  (Brief research by the Gazette did uncover several reports nationwide in recent years of cellphone or laptop batteries exploding and burning or injuring users.)

“This isn’t a problem that is unique to vapor products,” said American Vaping Association president Gregory Conley.

In addition, notes Erika Sward, assistant vice president of national advocacy for the American Lung Association, some users tamper with the batteries to produce more voltage, which overheats the liquid in e-cigarettes and produces a stronger hit of nicotine—not to mention a greater risk of malfunction and explosion.

(Speaking of exploding e-cigarettes, the U.S. government has banned e-cigarettes from checked airline luggage.)

While the FDA recently extended its authority over tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, manufacturers still have two years to submit nearly all e-cig products current on the market for FDA review.

“We’re hopeful the FDA starting to regulate these devices will help,” Brownson said.  “Until the regulations can be enforced, we expect that we will continue to see these injuries.”

However, the House of Representatives recently passed an FDA funding bill containing a rider that would “grandfather” all existing e-cig products—meaning that they’d be exempt from the new rules.  That rider will be reviewed in December when Congress resolves its budget bills.