A lot of people hail vaping as being a safer alternative to cigarettes, arguing that there’s no tobacco smoke, so it’s have got to be safer. It remains to be noticed if that’s true, there is some evidence that the stuff inside vapes and e-cigs is toxic. But beyond that, there’s the very fact these items occasionally blow up.
You hadn’t found out about this? Some pretty gruesome reports are starting to stack up. In November, a guy in Colorado broke his neck, lost some teeth, and suffered burns and facial fractures when his electronic cigarette exploded. A 15-year-old California boy lost half twelve teeth within a similar mishap recently. In Tennessee, another teen is recuperating from the severe burns caused when a free vape pen starter kit caught fire in his pocket a couple of weeks ago.
Statistics outlining how prevalent this really is remain thin, although the Federal Emergency Management Agency, of all the things, identified 25 cases of e-cigarette explosions in the usa between 2009-2014. However, that list is based only on incidents reported with the media. Considering the fact that vaping’s seen a surge in popularity since then-a year ago, the CDC reported a 3-fold increase among middle- and school students alone-the number almost certainly is rising. A quick Internet search shows at least 12 explosions in 2015 alone.
Instead of burning tobacco, vape pens and e-cigs make use of a small lithium-ion battery to heat an aerosol cartridge to release a vapor that’s inhaled. Like any device that uses lithium-ion batteries, you can run into problems when the battery is damaged or exposed to extremes in temperature. A brief circuit can cause the battery to overheat, catch fire, or even explode. These complications tend to exist in cheap consumer gadgets that happen to be quickly churned out of factories. On the whole, it’s relatively rare, but obviously it takes place-recently, in hoverboard scooters.
“With lithium-ion batteries on the whole, whenever you operate one outside its safety window, there’s a tendency where things will go wrong,” says Venkat Viswanathan, who teaches mechanical engineering Carnegie Mellon University. That window is startlingly small: Viswanathan says batteries work best kept between 50 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s February, and all of but four US states are averaging temperatures below 50 at the moment.
Occasionally, the thing is compounded by cheap lithium-ion batteries that “don’t get the luxury of employing sophisticated management systems,” Viswanathan says. That can cause dangerously over- or under-charged batteries. Dendrite is yet another potential problem. Dendrite is a conductive filament that can form during the period of boxmmod charge/discharge cycles, especially if the battery is rapidly charged. This stuff can spread such as a weed, eventually bridging the electrodes and causing a short circuit. “You have basically something equal to gasoline inside of your lithium-ion battery,” Viswanathan says, “and so immediately it catches fire.”
Lithium-ion batteries power a great deal of gadgets obviously, and frequently achieve this without trouble. But things such as cell phones and laptops and electric vehicles typically are produced to exacting specifications and rigorously tested, both by the company and outside experts. The Smoke-Free Alternative Trade Association, which represents for vape-makers, said it “cannot talk to user error or for a manufacturer with regard to their device” and, “If there is truly an issue using a specific device, similar to a lap top or cellular phone manufacturer, that company should go ahead and take appropriate action.”
As well as to be fair, it’s not uncommon for users to change their best vape box mod, and numerous websites offer easy methods to do exactly that. The industry trade group duly notes that hacked and modded devices can pose a safety risk.
All of which begs the question what, if something, is being done relating to this. Most regulatory discussions about e-cigarettes and vapes target the Food and Drug Administration’s critique from the chemicals based in the devices. The FDA is going to introduce rules regulating the business, a move that could classify e-cigarettes and vaping products much like tobacco. Products would carry warning labels, sales to minors could be banned, and you’d see restrictions on things such as offering free samples. But little has been said about the safety of the devices.
The Smoke-Free Alternative Trade Association says it supports “reasonable science-based regulations,” but opposes something that might “stifle innovation.” However it argues “e-cigs and vapor products are technology products, separate and distinct from combustible tobacco.” They liken these people to consumer electronics.
That’s where things get tricky. Asked whether it has any safety concerns regarding the devices, the Consumer Products Safety Commission deferred towards the FDA, saying this is the federal regulator in charge there. The FDA does claim responsibility for ensuring the protection of your parts in the devices that are found in the consumption of cigarettes and tobacco products. But there aren’t a lot of safety rules for manufacturers to follow along with, as well as the FDA is encouraging people to report any problems.
Viswanathan features a recommendation for companies making what is vaping as well as other gadgets which use lithium-ion batteries: Crib from automakers making electric cars. They’ve developed sophisticated systems for minimizing the potential risks of problems. “Lithium-ion batteries fundamentally are prone to catching fire,” he says, “and car makers have realized efficient strategies to create zones where these batteries are safe to work.”
Granted, the odds that your particular vape pen will blow up like an exploding cigar are slim. But it is possible, so your best bet is to find a high quality vape pen from the reputable manufacturer. Check the parts-when they feel and look cheap, they probably are. Viswanathan suggests making sure it’s got some kind of battery management system to stop shorts and thermal runaway. Make sure you’re making use of the right battery and charger, and don’t modify anything.