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Report of Electronic Cigarette Exploding in User’s Face Raises Safety Concerns

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Serious injuries resulting from exploding e-cigarette devices are on the rise, according to recent reports that suggest the popular smoking alternative may cause fires, burns and damage to the lungs. 

According to a report (PDF) released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 25 separate incidents of e-cigarette explosions or fires were reported in the U.S. between 2009 and August 2014. At least nine injuries arose from those incidents, including two involving serious burns and two incidents where the e-cigarette exploded while in the users mouth.

Officials say those numbers likely under-represent the amount of actual incidents, since many smaller incidents are never reported to the police or fire department, and are handled by the user.

A few days ago a Florida man was placed in a medically induced coma after his e-cigarette blew up in his face while he was using it. He was found in bed not breathing by family member who heard the explosion. He suffered internal and external burns and damage to his lungs.

The FEMA report suggest that most of the e-cigarette explosion problems, about 80 percent, occurred while the battery was being charged.

In one incident in 2013, the battery of a VapCig device charging in a car reportedly began dripping. When the user tried to unscrew the device the battery began shooting fire and exploded, then shooting metal pieces onto the users lap causing second-degree burns.

In 2013, a Texas user suffered second and third degree burns after an e-cigarette that was plugged in for a two hour charge exploded and shot across the room.

Events like these involving fire or explosion of an e-cigarette can occur suddenly and are often accompanied by a flash of light, smoke, flames, loud noise and the projection of the battery or other parts of the device. The shape of the devices coupled with a lithium-ion battery allow them to behave like “flaming rockets,” when the battery fails, according to the FEMA report.

The reports raise additional concerns about the safety of electronic cigarettes, which have become popular among smokers and teens, with an estimated 25 million users nationwide.

E-cigarettes Safety Concerns

Many reports indicate that the battery or other parts of the e-cigarette were ejected under pressure and “flew across the room” in similar situations. Many times the device caused other items in the room to catch fire, including carpets, drapes, bedding, couches or vehicle seats, said the FEMA report.

The report detailed many users plug e-cigarettes into power adapters not supplied by the manufacturer because the devices use a universal USB plug. Many will use phones and laptops to charge the devices. However, the voltage and current provided by USB ports can vary significantly causing higher currents than is safe.

FEMA officials say the report is not meant to be all inclusive, but rather a warning to e-cigarette users concerning the safety of the products.

The FEMA report noted many users were able to extinguish the small fires themselves when the devices burned less than six inches; however in some cases more serious injuries occurred when the fire grew larger.

Explosions and fires are not the only concerns linked to the devices.

A 2014 investigative report revealed problems concerning e-cigarette devices linked to a variety of injuries, including burns, respiratory problems and nicotine toxicity. The investigation revealed more than 50 adverse event reports involving difficulty breathing, headache, cough, dizziness, sore throat, chest pain, swelling of the lips and more.

E-cigarette devices became the target of a new FDA investigation launched in July, focusing on adverse reactions, reports of injury and other incidents related to e-cigarettes. The FDA plans to review the current rules governing e-cigarettes and address the risks the devices may pose.

Last year, the American Medical Association joined the debate concerning e-cigarettes and called for stricter regulations concerning the devices. Some lawmakers are calling to have the devices banned from airplanes.

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