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E-cigarette explosions: Product recall not up to scratch

20 April 2018:

Last week, Reynolds Vapor Co in the U.S. recalled 2.6 million units of its e-cigarette product, Vuse Vibe from the stores.Reynolds, which sells this product in 25,000 stores across the U.S., said users of this product should stop using it and not to charge the battery. This product recall in the U.S. received low publicity elsewhere and the importance of an e-cigarette recall was lost. The proponents of e-cigarettes were notably silent on the recall.

There have been numerous cases of e-cigarette explosions across the globe, however this problem is poorly reported. Regulators have not been exercising their authority to issue product recalls like they do for all other consumer products. There appears to be no accountability and no compensation for the injury caused by this  product when it explodes.

There is a site that reports on e-cigarette explosions which says the explosions are far more likely to cause injuries now than they did in the past. The site has recorded 243 e-cigarette explosions, till 1 May 2017: 

  • 63 e-cigarette explosions happened during use;
  • 84 e-cigarette explosions happened during charging;
  • 52 e-cigarette explosions happened during transport, storage or unknown circumstances;
  • 44 e-cigarette explosions involved spare batteries for removable battery mods.

Nearly all these cases of explosions recorded are from North America and Europe with just a few cases from Philippines and Malaysia. However there are other incidences of explosions that have happened in both the Philippines and Malaysia but not recorded on this site. It can be assumed there are more cases of e-cigarette explosions in more countries. 

Philippines

In 2016, a man claimed that the batteries in his unregulated box mod exploded shortly after it was installed. His friend who was nearby was burned in the incident. The cause for the explosion was unknown.

Last year, an e-cigarette device exploded while a customer was still testing out the product in a shop. He was holding it when it exploded in his hands. While this news was shared via social media, no investigation was conducted, there was no response from the manufacturer nor distributor, no response from the regulator responsible for consumer safety, and no product recall issued in the Philippines.

Malaysia

In November 2015, in Gopeng a man’s e-cigarette exploded while he was using it. The mouthpiece flew off when he pushed the fire button, cutting his lip. He needed six stitches for the injury. (Source) The model of e-cigarette is unknown and the probable cause remains unknown.

In another case in October 2015, an e-cigarette caught fire during a flight on a Boeing 737-800. It was in a passenger’s pocket. The passenger sustained minor injuries, but the fire didn’t spread. (Source) The e-cigarette model is unknown and the cause of the spontaneous combustion remains unknown.

In 2014, in Bintulu in East Malaysia, a 53-year-old van driver died from an explosion after his e-cigarette device suddenly exploded. It is believed that the battery of the e-cigarette exploded and it popped out from the device during the explosion. The force of the explosion struck the driver in the chest, causing him to collapse. Despite the death, there has been no investigation nor a product recall in Malaysia, like how other consumer products are treated.

These examples clearly show e-cigarettes devices are a hazard, not just when they are being used, but also when not in use. Explosion and serious injury can happen unexpectedly. This heightens its dangers, an issue ignored by regulators, product safety councils, distributors, retailers and proponents of e-cigarettes. The standards of product safety and recall, applied to all other consumer products, are conspicuously not being applied to e-cigarettes.

Of course a broader question is, why has there been no product recall of tobacco products despite the millions of deaths over so many decades and the many millions who suffer from its devastating effects? Tobacco companies continue to sell their harmful product and now even sell e-cigarettes, which does release smoke, but can explode unexpectedly.

See here for the SEATCA handout on electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).

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