In the course of roughly a decade, e-cigarettes and similar devices have grown for a peculiarity to a common item that most people on the street could readily identify. The rapid growth in the acceptance of e-cigarettes and other portable vaporizing devices can be attributed to many reasons. Some switched to e-cigs due to the lack of the distinctive tobacco odor that many smokers struggle to cope with. Others switched to e-cigarettes due to the novelty of the devices and the flavored “e-juices” one can use in the devices. Still others switched to these devices because the individual perceives them to be safer than traditional smoking or other uses of tobacco.
Unfortunately, as with cigarettes and other products containing nicotine, there may be long-term health concerns with the use of these products. However, there are other concerns with the products including whether the design of e-cigarettes makes the lithium-ion batteries used in the devices more likely to malfunction, catch fire, or explode. In some cases, these lithium-ion battery fires and explosions can result in life-altering injuries including severe burns.
The History of Electronic Cigarette Development & Sales
E-cigarettes are small, typically hand-held, devices that are powered by lithium-ion batteries. The power of the battery is used to power a particular heating element that can be ceramic, wick-based, or made from other materials. The first patent of a device of this type was filed back in 2003. E-cigs do not use particularly novel technology, but rather takes advantage of advances in battery technologies that have largely been driven by the cell phone and larger consumer electronics industry. However, widespread sale of the devices did not commence until, roughly, 2007. According to e-cigarette sales statistics cited by the U.S. Fire Administration, there were more than 450 different devices on the market in 2014. The same study found that the market is expanding rapidly and, on average, 10.5 new devices and 242 new flavors of “e-juice” hit the market every month. As of July 2014, the e-cigarettes were a $2.5 billion industry – and growing.
Potential Fire & Explosion Danger for Batteries Commonly Used in Personal Vaporizers and Other Electronics
Through a casual Internet search, the U.S. Fire Administration was able to cover at least 25 instances lithium battery fires that were reported in the media or otherwise known to the agency. The risk appears to be at its height when the device is charging with the battery in the device. However, incidents have also occurred when the product was being used as intended. Perhaps even more troubling, in one case the device caught fire while idle and being transported in a cargo plane. Other instances of e-cigarette fires and explosions as reported by the agency include:
- Greely, Colorado (November 2011) – One individual claimed to be injured by an exploding Enercell battery in a Prodigy V3.1 e-cigarette. The man claims that the device exploded while he was using it launching, “burning debris and battery acid into his mouth, face, and eyes.”
- Niceville, Florida (February 2012) – In this case, some reports indicate that the device may have been altered by the user, but the device in question exploded while in use resulting in severe burns and the loss of teeth and part of the man’s tongue.
- Phoenix, Arizona (August 2013) – A person claims that a particular e-cigarette caused two fires in their household. The first fire “scorched” the carpet while the second “gutted” the bedroom. The individual was taken to the hospital where they were treated for smoke inhalation.
- Warren, Michigan (November 2013) – A Michigan woman described hearing a “gunshot” in her home. It turned out that her portable vaporizer had exploded in what she described as “a rolling ball of fire.” The fire scorched part of her hardwood flooring but thankfully did not spread out of control.
It is clear that lithium-ion batteries can malfunction whether they are at rest, charging, or in-use and discharging. While the incidence of these events is relatively low when they do occur the consequences can be catastrophic. First, many media reports describe the incidents with electronic cigarettes as “explosions.” To see how the explosions often occur, please see the following video cited by the U.S. Fire Administration.
As one can clearly see, e-cigarette explosions result in an effect that is similar to a rocket. It is believed that this effect occurs because the lithium batters are designed and manufactured in such a way that the weakest point is at the end where the battery is installed. When a battery ignites and large amounts of kinetic energy is released, this point can fail allowing the battery to rocket across the room.
Unfortunately, the rocketing effect displayed by batteries installed in e-cigarette devices also increases the fire risk. Many of the incidents explored by the U.S. fire Administration did result in the ignition of nearby objects. In a number of incidents flooring, carpeting, curtains, drapes, and furniture caught fire after the battery exploded and caught fire. If there is any potential silver lining in these incidents, it’s the fact that the loud explosion common in these events typically alerts the user of the event so that he or she can extinguish the fire or call for help. However, the fact remains that any device people place near their face or in their mouth should never explode.
How Can Users Reduce the Risk of E-Cigarette Injury?
Users can reduce their chance of experiencing such an incident by only using the charger that was originally shipped with the device. Furthermore, due to several levels of the USB technology standard that can carry different levels of electric current ranging from 150mA/5V to 5 amps/20V, users should also be sure that the device contains appropriate automatic shut-off and overload protection circuits. Additionally, use of well-respected brands utilizing quality parts can reduce the risk of such an event, but all batteries of this type can experience problems if improperly manufactured or when misused by consumers in foreseeable ways.
If a severe injury has already occurred, the experienced and dedicated defective product and personal injury attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm can fight for you. To schedule a free and confidential consultation regarding your injury, call our experienced team at (215) 246-9000 or contact us online today.