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Vape Explosion Injury Highlights Risks Associated With E-Cigarette Batteries

A new case report highlights the risk of severe injuries that may result from a vape explosion, amid a growing number of problems with e-cigarette lithium-ion batteries overheating suddenly.

The latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine outlines an e-cigarette explosion injury suffered by a seventeen year old boy, who had to be treated at a specialty hospital several hours away for a shattered jaw and several broken teeth, among other injuries linked to his vape pen.

According to the report, 17 year old Austin Adams asked his parents to purchase an electronic cigarette for him so he could ease his addiction to tobacco. His mother, Kailani Burton, purchased Austin an e-cigarette device from a company called VGOD, which is an online vape and e-cigarette seller.

Shortly after the Nevada resident began using the vape pen, it exploded. Burton told new outlets her son approached her with his hands to his mouth to stop the bleeding and unable to speak. The Nevada residents had to drive five hours to the nearest hospital able to handle the severe injuries.

Austin was treated at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City for extensive lacerations in his mouth, a shattered jaw and multiple disrupted lower incisors. Treating doctors had to remove e-cigarette debris that had become lodged in the tissue of Austin’s mouth from the explosion.

Over the last several years, the loosely regulated lithium-ion batteries used to power the devices have come into question. Lithium ion battery explosions can occur because of short circuits, or when the materials inside the battery ignite due to a chemical process called thermal runaway.

The e-cigarette explosions can be caused by a variety of factors, including damage to the battery, recharging the battery too fast, using after-market chargers, improper disposal, high heat, or after being placed in a pocket with other metal items.

If the battery is manufactured correctly, handled correctly and integrated into the devices correctly, they work fine. However, if one of those processes fails, the results can be an explosion or fire. The overwhelming majority of adverse events have linked lithium ion battery problems to faulty manufacturing processes, where the batteries are made without a high degree of quality control.

A 2018 study published by BMJ found there were an estimated 2,035 e-cigarette explosion and burn injuries due to electronic cigarette battery failures seen at U.S. hospital emergency departments from 2015 through 2017.

The report indicated vape explosions and burn injuries in the United States are significantly under reported, calling for improved surveillance of e-cigarette injuries and further regulation of the devices and the batteries used to power them.

At least two e-cigarette explosion fatalities have been recorded by federal regulators. Earlier this year, William Eric Brown, of Tarrant County, Texas died on January 29, after being in a medically induced coma following the explosion of an electronic cigarette that lodged shrapnel into his throat.

According to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office, Brown’s cause of death was from cerebral infarction and herniation after debris from the exploding vape pen tore his left carotid artery.

Last year in May, 38 year-old Tallmadge D’Elia, of Florida, was killed by a projectile wound to his head after his electronic cigarette overheated and exploded. The projectile was confirmed to have been part of the nearby exploded e-cigarette.

In May 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) banned all forms of electronic smoking devices such as e-cigarettes and vape pens from checked baggage on aircraft, and e-cigarette devices and batteries may not be charged aboard any aircraft. The rule was finalized by the agency following several recent reports of e-cigarettes catching on fire inside of checked luggage.

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