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Dangers Of E-Cigarettes? Users File New Lawsuits Over Exploding Devices

For former smokers who are keen on quitting, nicotine replacement therapy such as the use of e-cigarettes and nicotine patches seems the best alternative.

Ever since their emergence in the U.S. market, e-cigarettes have been touted as an efficient and safer path on the road to smoking cessation. These battery-powered devices work by heating liquid nicotine and other ingredients, and then turning them into an inhalable vapor.

However, some lawyers and users say the e-cigarette or vaping industry has not done enough to address one potential danger of using the device: cheaply manufactured lithium batteries in e-cigarettes can unexpectedly explode.

The Case Of Rachel Berven

One day in February, 27-year-old Rachel Berven of Modesto, California took her e-cigarette device to replace the old battery. She has been doing this ever since she turned to vaping to quit smoking one year ago.

However, when Berven turned on the device, she claims the e-cigarette suddenly exploded. The explosion ripped a hole in her mouth, splashing battery acid all over her body.

Months after the e-cigarette explosion, Berven tells the Wall Street Journal that she has been struggling to pay for the dental procedures required to replace her damaged teeth.

Berven endures scars on her face and refuses to wear shorts because of burn marks on her legs.

"In my head, the explosion just keeps happening," says Berven.

In March, Berven decided to sue Switch to Vapor, the retailer where she bought the e-cigarette, for negligence. A store manager of Switch to Vapor did not comment.

Who Is To Blame?

Vaping industry groups assert that any alleged explosions are negligible, given the number of e-cigarette users, and that accidents are caused by misuse of the device.

But dozens of lawsuits have already been filed in New York, Florida, California and many other states over alleged defects of e-cigarettes.

Some say that the batteries issued by retailers are mass-produced by Chinese companies, which are difficult to invite into U.S. courts. Because of this, lawyers usually set their sights more broadly and name anyone in the supply chain as defendants.

The Real Issue

A group called Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, which represents e-cigarette retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and importers, says it takes issues of safety incidents seriously.

But it also said millions of users, especially former smokers, in the country and in other parts of the world "have found vaping to be a significant alternative to combustible cigarettes."

Meanwhile, New York Attorney Marc Freund says the cases reflect the issue that the batteries are being manufactured haphazardly and not being regulated, with poor warnings that never reach the consumers.

Freund's firm has filed suits on behalf of a teenager who reportedly became partially blind because of an e-cigarette explosion at a mall kiosk, as well as of a woman who says she suffered third-degree burns on her thigh when an e-cigarette battery flared up in her pocket.

Indeed, the cases stated above are only part of a growing number of e-cigarette accidents in the country.

In October, a woman was awarded by the Riverside, California jury with $1.9 million in damages in a lawsuit against a distributor, retailer and wholesaler of e-cigarettes after the device allegedly exploded while charging in her car.

The woman was left with severe burns. Defendants argued that the damages were the result of the woman's misuse of the device.

George Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, says e-cigarette explosion reports are mostly from consumers who use the wrong chargers or from incidents with more complex "mechanical mods."

He says that when charged and used properly, e-cigarettes pose no more of a fire risk than any other devices powered by lithium-ion batteries, such as laptops, cellphones or hoverboards.

Photo: Lindsay Fox | Flickr

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