You see them everywhere: Fake cigarettes that do not spew smoke, but rather, send puffs of vapor into the air. Although the users look like they are using a cigarette, they are actually using an e-cigarette (“e-cig”). They have increased in popularity, but recent events have led many to wonder if these devices present more danger than anticipated.
What is an E-Cig?
E-cigs are intended to replace the harmful effects of traditional smoking with a safer experience that manufacturers say is just as satisfying. By weaning cigarette users off of dangerous nicotine, e-cig manufacturers claim that they are improving public health. Because these devices give off vapors instead of smoke, they smell better and avoid the dangers of secondhand smoke.
These claims are likely at least partially true, if only because few things can be equally dangerous as the regular inhalation of nicotine.
Devices are Malfunctioning
More and more, these products are being shown to be defective and dangerous when they malfunction. To understand the problems that these devices are causing, it is important to understand how the devices work.
The vaping pens vaporize liquids or materials by heating them up to a temperature at which they vaporize. They generate the power to create that heat using a small, internal lithium ion battery.
People are being seriously injured when these devices are exploding in their mouths, hands, or pockets. The accidents are becoming so common that reports of injuries are being made every couple of days, and the facts of these accidents are scary.
Danger and Risk of Injury can be Severe
The injuries caused when the devices explode can be severe and grotesque. They include burns that require skin grafts, blast injuries that hurl shrapnel into the user, tooth loss, and destruction of tissue.
A recent FEMA report went so far as to say there is no product or industry that poses the same dangers presented by e-cigarettes. This is largely because no other device puts a lithium ion battery so close to a user’s face. Of devices that malfunctioned, the FEMA study showed that 62% did so when in someone’s pocket or when being used. Just 25% of the incidents occurred while the device was charging.
FEMA is so concerned over the propensity of e-cigarettes to explode, it will not allow them to be in the checked baggage on airplanes.
One man suffered burns to his face and lost many of his front teeth when his vaping pen exploded. A teenager in Oregon who nearly lost his eye when the device exploded said it sounded like a grenade going off. A man in Idaho had his skin scorched and teeth blown out when his e-cig exploded in his mouth.
These devices have been known to explode at other times, even when they are not in use. Often, they do so in a user’s pocket. A New York man suffered injuries to his hand and his leg so bad that he needed skin grafts and still needs a wheelchair to get around. A video of the incident appears to show the device exploding in his pocket, and he has filed a lawsuit.
Another lawsuit has been filed in South Carolina by a man who had his battery explode in his pocket. His lawsuit alleges that his e-cig battery was not even in the cigarette, but was a spare battery in his pocket. The lawsuit alleges that the battery ignited on contact with objects in the man’s pocket, such as keys or loose change. He has undergone multiple surgeries and skin grafts.
Studies Look at the Cause of Explosions
There are many theories as to why these devices are exploding. Many cite the fact that as the devices are becoming more popular, cheaper, more dangerous versions are being sold on the open market and online. These devices may not have the build quality or safety features needed to keep users safe.
Others say the design of the device itself is dangerous. Lithium Ion batteries are always dangerous, but when they are in cell phones or other devices they usually are encased by a protective housing, and have temperature controls that will keep the batteries from overheating.
E-cigs operate differently. Because the front and back of the device are open (where the user breathes into, and where the vapors come out), an overheating or exploding battery has two “weak points” where the force of an explosion can escape the device. Because of its long and cylindrical shape, there is little buffer between the battery and the outside casing of the device.
Precautions May Not Help Given the Product’s Design
Like many products with defective designs, there is little a consumer can do to protect from the dangers inherent in the device. The U.S. Fire Administration suggested that users make sure that they buy devices with an Underwriters Laboratories mark (“UL”), showing it has been inspected.
FEMA also discourages consumers from using used or salvaged batteries, and reminds consumers that spare batteries should always be kept in a protective plastic case as contact with other metal items in someone’s pocket can create fires (as the lawsuits mentioned above allege).
But even with inspected batteries and the utmost consumer case, the Administration admitted that there was always a danger of the product exploding, and that a technology other than a lithium ion battery should be explored.
FEMA’s study also warns that even sellers that tout their product is “protected,” may be misleading since there is no law or regulation that requires any type of specific protections.
With so many devices and batteries being made by so many manufacturers and sold by so many distributors, every instance of an c-cigarette malfunction will be different. Whether there are sufficient warnings or protections built into the device will be made on a case by case basis. Even when a manufacturer does everything they should, they still can be liable for making and selling an inherently defective and dangerous product.
If you are injured by a defective product or device, make sure your attorneys have the technical knowledge to bring your injury lawsuit to trial. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation if you are injured by a malfunctioning or defective product.