Electronic cigarettes and vape pens: the unknown dangers

vape pen

E-cigarette and vape pen use can be dangerous, causing fires and explosions. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, around 62 percent of fires and explosions involving vaping devices are happening either when the device was in use or while the batteries are in the owner’s pocket. (Courtesy photo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- --

 

Using e-cigarettes and/or vape pens has become increasingly popular in the past 7-10 years.

In the U.S. alone, there is an estimated 3,500 stores selling e-cigarette and vape pen devices. Many are moving towards vaping because they believe it to be healthier and safer than traditional cigarettes. Since there is no actual smoke being produced while using these devices, there is an associated illusion of fire safety.

In reality, the increasing use of these vaping devices has revealed there are significant risks beyond cancer and emphysema: fires and explosions.

The shape of the devices, coupled with the current generation of lithium-ion batteries used to produce the vapor, are two primary hazard sources. Alarmingly, 66 percent of reported e-cigarette fires or explosions spawned larger fires by igniting other flammable objects that were in close proximity.

Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration banned vaping devices from being placed in checked baggage due to this potential fire danger. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, around 62 percent of fires and explosions involving these vaping devices are happening either when the device was in use or while the batteries are in the owner’s pocket.

Last January, a man in Pocatello, Idaho, lost seven teeth and suffered severe facial burns when his vape pen exploded.

From 2009-2016, the U.S. Fire Administration did a 10-year study on the potential fire dangers of vaping devices. Some of the recommendations they published are:

- Consumers should look for and demand e-cigarette products that have been evaluated for safety. Look for the Underwriters Laboratories mark on the product and packaging.

- The long-term effects of the new UL safety standard cannot be determined at this time. Even with improved protection circuitry in an e-cigarette device, and with 100 percent compliance in providing such protection, there remains a possibility of battery failure and severe injury. Manufacturing defects and damage to the device or battery cannot be eliminated.

- Lithium-ion batteries should not be used in e-cigarettes. While the number of batteries that explode and catch fire is statistically small, the catastrophic nature of the injuries that can occur warrants the use of another battery technology for e-cigarettes.

- As long as lithium-ion batteries continue to be used in e-cigarettes, severe injuries will continue to occur. As the number of e-cigarettes in use increases, the number of severe injuries from lithium-ion battery explosions and fires will likely continue to increase.

- Suppliers, industry associations, user groups and fire prevention educators should all stress the importance of using UL-listed devices and proper charging practices to reduce the number of incidents. Stronger warnings in the literature and user manuals may be helpful.

 

There are risks in everything we do in life.  The basic principle of personal risk management is to reduce the risks we are exposed to a minimal level. 

Sometimes, the most dangerous kind of risks are unknown hazards. If you or your family members use vaping devices, educate yourself about the potential hazards and learn how to best protect yourself and your loved ones. 

For more information on e-cigarettes and vape pen safety precautions, read the Federal Emergency Management Agency report:   https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/electronic_cigarettes.pdf.