E-cig batteries presenting a new kind of smoking risk

Lithium ion batteries in devices can explode “like flaming rockets,” sending some to the hospital

(SAN ANTONIO, TX – March 18, 2016) The popularity of e-cigarettes — vaping — continues to rise. And while some say they’re a safer alternative to smoking, a new hazard is coming to light that may disprove that idea, doctors say.

The hazard? In a handful of cases — including at least one in San Antonio — the batteries that run the devices have been known to explode, injuring the user.

A video that has circulated widely in recent weeks shows a man’s pants igniting in a Kentucky convenience store. Multiple cases of burns involving the battery explosion have been reported across the country. Dr. Lilian Liao, pediatric trauma and burn director at University Hospital, said she’s seen this type of injury in San Antonio and hopes not to see more.

“These are lithium ion batteries, like the ones in hover boards reported over the holidays that also have been catching on fire,” Dr. Liao said.

Lithium ion batteries are also in laptops and cell phones, but are more prone to overheating in e-cigarettes.  A report by the U.S. Fire Administration notes that “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.”

The 2014 report notes that, compared to the millions of users, explosions are rare, but Dr. Liao is concerned about the severe damage that those malfunctions can cause.

“Burns can injure the face, mouth, hands and legs,” Dr. Liao said. “Burn injuries can be serious and may require major surgery. They can also result in a lifetime of complications.”

“Our main goal with this announcement is that our community be aware of potential issues with this device,” she said, “and if they choose to use them, learn to do so safely.”

Key points from the federal report, which can be viewed here:

  • 25 separate incidents of explosion and fire involving an e-cigarette were reported in the United States media between 2009 and August 2014.
  • Nine injuries and no deaths were associated with these 25 incidents. Two of the injuries were serious burns.
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