E-cigarettes, personal vaporizers or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) seem to undergo an increasing trend among customers. These include people who are smokers, former smokers or individuals who never consumed cigarettes. Their basic design makes them easy to use and because of this many of the users fail to take into consideration the risk of a "thermal runaway," a situation when the internal battery becomes overheated, thus increasing the chances to produce an explosion.
Generally, lithium-ion batteries are safe. However, their overheating was responsible for no less than 15 patients who experienced burns in the interval October 2015 - June 2016, as confirmed by the University of Washington Medicine Regional Burn Center. Among the patients, 80 percent had flame burns and a third experienced chemical burns due to the exploding batteries.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only recently started regulating e-cigarettes by extending its authority to cover tobacco products including ENDS. While the battery status of these devices remains unclear, the increasing number of cases raise concerns from the medical team that recently published a study in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Until this issue is resolved, both ENDS consumers and their health providers have to be aware of the risks and not minimize the possibility of explosion that is associated with the consumption of e-cigarettes. Among the registered cases, many patients also had their hands affected by the explosion while trying to remove the e-cigarette that exploded from their pockets.
"There also have been a lot of injuries to the hands and face when people have had explosions as they've been using them. Patients tell us they had no idea this could happen. They've had little to no warning that the device is going to explode," explained Elisha Brownson, a burn/critical care surgical fellow at the hospital.
The team of scientists believe that this issue constitutes a public safety problem, demanding an increase in regulation and drastic monitoring from the FDA. However, there are no manufacturing standards imposed for these devices.
The American Vaping Association publicly explained that the risk of e-cigarettes is the same as for any other lithium-ion batteries, from mobile phones to laptops, when used properly. But according to Brownson, some of the batteries could be substandard or mechanically faulty, as there are no authorities responsible for their proper functioning.
"Had the authors wanted to give a complete picture rather than just stoke fears, they would have recapped other battery-related injuries to demonstrate that this isn't a problem that is unique to vapor products," declared Gregory Conley, president of the association.