First, they came for the hoverboards, and now it looks like the latest victim of the ever-combustible Lithium-ion battery media craze is a product that isn't really too great for you to begin with: the e-cigarette.

While CBS News went as far as to equate hoverboards with e-cigs (or, as they're also known, personal vapes) as the new product to watch out for (for safety purposes, that is), is it more or less hyping up a story or reporting objectively and accurately? With media coverage on explosions caused by e-cigarettes on the rise, will the electronic smoking device become the next gadget to receive a wave of stringent bans?

According to news sources, two e-cigarette-related explosions have occurred within the month of February this year. The first incident happened in Naples, Fla. As the Associated Press reported:

"Cassandra Koziol told the Naples Daily News she had parked her car outside a friend's house Thursday night to use the e-cigarette and charge her car. She said that when she pressed the device's button, it exploded, loosening her teeth and flying from her hand."

In a CNN report originally reposted by Fox 59, a man from Owensboro, Ky. was severely burned when an e-cig battery exploded in his pocket. The incident was caught on film by the store's surveillance cameras, with eyewitnesses that corroborated the story.

"He was giving me money, he put his hand in his pocket, so suddenly there was fire. Big fire, and he was burning," said Jassie Singh, the cashier on duty at the gas station where the explosion occurred.

According to results collected from a study issued by FEMA in October 2014, "[T]wenty-five separate incidents of explosion and fire involving an e-cigarette were reported in the United States media between 2009 and August 2014" with "nine injuries and no deaths ... associated with these 25 incidents." The data the agency collected revealed that "two of the injuries were serious burns."

(For those keeping score at home, there have been purportedly 52 reported incidents of hoverboards catching on fire within the past year, meaning the rate is exceedingly more within one 365-day cycle than five years of collected e-cig data.)

Perhaps more importantly, the study revealed how the explosions occurred, and noted that almost all of the respective incidents somehow involved the Lithium-ion batteries used to power e-cigs. As per the report, the majority of the incidents happened while the e-cig's Lithium-ion battery was charging — and most likely charging improperly.

"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," stated the report, which then went on to caution e-cigarette smokers that li-ion batteries should only be charged in strict accordance with the manufacturer's instructions, and unapproved power sources were intrinsic to significantly upping the chance of a fire and/or explosion.

The study also elucidated why the design of a typical e-cig (and the battery that powers it) paired with an unsanctioned power source could set off an unexpected explosion:

"A cylindrical lithium-ion battery is made by winding alternating layers of metallic anode and cathode material separated by a porous film. The porous separator film holds a liquid electrolyte made of an organic solvent and dissolved lithium salts. This core is placed into a cylindrical metal can through the open end, and the can is then sealed closed tightly so that the liquid electrolyte cannot escape or evaporate." 

To put it in layman's terms, if something goes wrong inside of a li-ion battery (i.e., overheating), the tightness of the cylinder minus one open end creates the aforementioned "rocket-like" effect.

There is one big "however": the FEMA report is also quick to note that it found "no evidence that overheating can be a problem" — namely, that if they're put together correctly, they should work without any flare-ups (sorry about the pun).

"... concern has been raised that the heating element inside the e-cigarette could become an ignition source. Manufactured PVs [personal vapes] typically have built-in circuits to limit the time that the heating element can be turned on, which prevents overheating and possible fires or injuries. In the absence of independent safety testing of the e-cigarettes, no assurance that these circuits will reliably perform their safety function is available. Homemade Mods may not have overheat protection built in."

Basically, this means that, while e-cigs have other pretty dangerous byproducts — like the alleged chance of developing a disease nicknamed popcorn lung — the chance that your e-cig or vape might explode shouldn't be the big one, and that poorly built models will have a greater risk of malfunctioning. Surprise!

So, why not just make better batteries? As Jay Whitare, a professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, told CBS, companies that make these smokable electronic products use "batteries [that] are simply not made to the same standard as the batteries that are made by say Sony or Panasonic, which has much more stringent quality control."

"In general, with this kind of technology, it is very difficult for the user to be at fault," he continued. "There is a well controlled charging circuit and there should be a good package that the cell lives in. Both of those things should be designed to protect the user." 

So, if you're looking to get your e-cig on, it's probably better to splurge a little so that you're getting a more high-end vape, as opposed to a cheaper model that might have a tampered and/or poorly-made battery cell package. We're definitely not advocating smoking, but if you do, happy trails, and know that your e-cig is probably not going to be banned from a public street anytime soon.

Photo: Lindsay Fox |

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