Across the country, hospitals are beginning to report serious injuries from exploding e-cigarettes. A regional burn center in Seattle treated 15 patients from October 2015 to June of 2016. At the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) Burn Center, they have treated six people so far this year for serious injuries. An internet search will turn up numerous reports along with photographs of people with severe injuries to the mouth, tongue, face and upper legs in many cases.
Elisha Brownson, a doctor with the University of Washington’s Harborview Medical Center told MedPage Today, “We are seeing about two patients a month with injuries related to e-cigarette explosions, and we have learned that there are several different ways to be injured by these products.” Brownson explained that while some injuries are simple flame burns, others are more complicated burns caused by chemicals from the exploding batteries.
The e-cigarette has several components that can lead to explosions. Each unit has an aerosol generator, a flow sensor, a container for the vaping liquid, and a lithium-ion battery. We know from recalls on other technological devices that lithium-ion batteries can catch fire or explode. (www.medpagetoday.com, 10-05-16)
When the FDA added e-cigarettes to the category of tobacco products under its regulatory guidelines this summer, it did not include the devices themselves. And while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported a total of 25 incidents in the period between 2009 and 2015, reports already indicate more than 6 in 2016 to date. We have growing numbers of users coinciding with a rise in the number of serious injuries.
Some of the cases involve an e-cigarette device catching on fire or exploding while in a pants pocket, causing burns on the thigh, genitalia and often the hands as the victim reached in his pocket to remove the burning device. And there are stories about e-cigarettes exploding while being smoked, breaking teeth, tearing and burning the tongue, and tissue of the mouth and face. When the vaping device explodes it can also send bits of metal hurtling into the user’s body.
Dr. Anne Wagner of the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) Burn Center talked about the severity of injuries they have seen from exploding e-cigarette devices: “We’re seeing deep third-degree burns and almost all of them require skin grafts and these grafts leave a significant scar.”
“The electrolyte inside the battery is basically the equivalent of gasoline,” explained Venkat Viswanathan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “So when these batteries short out, there’s a surge of heat that causes this flammable electrolyte to combust and explode.” (www.NBCNews.com) Well-made lithium-ion cells have a very small risk of failure. But the cheaper cells “have a much greater chance of having a manufacturing defect,” which increases the likelihood for failure, Viswanathan told NBC News.
Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, Inc., is concerned about the lack of regulation of the e-cigarette devices, “We’re seeing a flood of these low-cost, low-quality devices that are hurting people and we’re dealing with safety as an afterthought,” Kane said. “We need tough standards that require good design and manufacturing practices to ensure these devices are produced safely.” (www.NBCNews.com)
There is a growing population of e-cigarette users who are pre-teens and teens—lured in by the ‘cool’ appeal of flavored vaping liquids and the desire to be part of the next best thing. The growing number of explosions and fires, alone, without considering the health impact from inhaling nicotine and other toxins, warrants federal regulation over these devices. Perhaps our do-nothing Congress can tackle this issue in the coming year. Otherwise, the flood of cheap, defective and dangerous products will continue, and so will the injuries.