Media outlets have reported incidents when vapers have suffered from explosions, runing lurid headlines about “exploding e-cigarettes” and displaying devastating burn injuries alledgedly caused by the devices. Recently a CCTV video went viral, purporting to show a man in a gas station whose pants literally flew into a blaze, sending him running outside to strip off the clothing.
But how much truth is there to the claim that e-cigarettes are a fire hazard to the people who use them, and should vapers be worried?
Consumer misuse is explosive, e-cigarettes are not
In almost all cases recorded, the problem of so-called exploding e-cigarettes is rather about the misuse of lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are not exclusive to e-cigarettes. They’re common in a whole range of products, including cell phones and laptops. The last official report on the subject of batteries exploding involving e-cigarettes was by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) back in 2014.
“Twenty-five separate incidents of explosion and fire involving an e-cigarette were reported in the United States media between 2009 and August 2014,” according to FEMA. In total, there were “nine injuries and no deaths associated with these 25 incidents.” The most serious injuries were due to burns.
Most of these accidents, 80 percent of them in fact, came down to the battery and, more specifically, incorrectly charging them. The report made clear that e-cigarettes should only be charged in the way their manufacturers had instructed.
Amber Whaley at Info-electronic-cigarette.com found a similar result. “In our research we found the same trend; surveying 30 separate cases from 2012 to 2015 we found 22 cases where the fire started while the device was charging. The remaining 8 exploded either in the users’ possession, in their pocket or hand, or it was undisclosed by the media at the time of the incidence,” writes Whaley.
Why do lithium-ion batteries explode?
Following an explosion in Feb. 2015 that had no identifiable cause, the American Journal of Medical Case Reports came up with their own theory as to why the battery had combusted:
Many e-cigarettes use lithium batteries due to their ability to store large amounts of energy in a compact amount of space. However, the inherent characteristics of lithium batteries can pose a risk of fire and explosion.
Partial thickness burns caused by spontaneously exploding mobile phones has been described in the literature. The lithium ion battery has separately been described as the ‘mini-bomb in your pocket,’ due to its known ability to spontaneously ignite. Poor design, use of low-quality materials, manufacturing flaws and defects, and improper use and handling can all contribute to a condition known as ‘thermal runaway,’ whereby the internal battery temperature can increase to the point of causing a battery fire or explosion.
According to FEMA, “the shape and construction of e-cigarettes can make them more likely than other products with lithium-ion batteries to behave like ‘flaming rockets’ when a battery fails.” But the agency adds that if the devices are used as instructed and not modified or charged incorrectly there is “no evidence that overheating can be a problem.”
“When used and charged properly, [e-cigarettes] pose no more of a fire risk than other products that use lithium ion batteries,” Gregory Conley, President of American Vaping Association said Wednesday. “It’s a remote risk that is almost entirely avoidable,” Conley added.
In short, if vapers use their e-cigarettes as instructed, there is little chance they will suffer any horrific injuries recent headlines have pumped up.
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