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Spontaneous combustion – Yet another reason to ban e-cigarettes

27 February 2023

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the number of e-cigarette battery air incidents has tripled since 2019, based on the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) database. E-cigarettes were the leading cause for lithium battery incidents on aircraft in 2022.

The FAA has been recording incidents of fires involving lithium batteries in e-cigarettes for several years. In 2019, the Washington Post quoting the FAA database reported, “E-cigarettes and the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power them have caused smoke or fire incidents on planes or at airports more than 30 times in three years.”

Because of cargo-area fire risks, most airport authorities do not allow vapes in checked-in luggage but allow them in carry-on luggage. This incoherence in policy has resulted in incidents on flights and at airports. Examples of incidents during flights and in airports include:

There have been 322 incidents involving lithium batteries reported to the Federal Aviation Administration in the USA between 2006 and June 30, 2021. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), there is a particular threat of fire and explosion connected with lithium-ion batteries when powering e-cigs and these batteries are not a safe energy source for any type of vape pen or e-cigarette. The USFA also stated, “The shape and construction of electronic cigarettes can make them (more likely than other products with lithium-ion batteries) behave like “flaming rockets” when a battery fails.”

These reported incidents are noteworthy evidence that e-cigarettes should be banned from been carried into aircrafts even in hand luggage.

According to US attorneys, e-cigarettes have the potential to explode anywhere. If the lithium-ion battery short-circuits for any reason, it can ignite the electrolyte and cause an explosion. Incidents of fires involving e-cigarettes have been reported in many countries but the response to deal with them has been inadequate.

The Casey Law Offices reports, more than 195 e-cigarette fires and explosions were recorded between 2009 and 2016, and of those incidents:

  • 18 took place while the e-cigarette device or battery was in storage
  • 48 took place while the e-cigarette battery was charging
  • 60 took place while the e-cigarette was in use
  • 61 took place when either the device or its spare batteries were in a pocket
  • 133 of these fires caused acute injuries

Exploding e-cigarettes injure users

One study which reviewed data from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) estimated 2035 e-cigarette explosion and burn injuries in Emergency Department between 2015 to 2017.

Reports of e-cigarette related injuries continued to emerge:

  • In 2018, a Florida man was also found dead after his e-cigarette exploded during use, sending a projectile into his head. 
  • In 2019 Teenager from Nevada was injured when his vape exploded shattering his jaw and he had to undergo reconstructive surgery.
  • In January 2019, a Texas man died of a massive stroke after the e-cigarette he was using exploded and tore his carotid artery. He was 24 years old.
  • In January 2021, a Western Australian mine worker sustained serious thermal and chemical burns on his leg when a vape battery combusted while he was travelling in a vehicle. In a Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) report, the incident was described as “not unlike fireworks going off and flying around the inside of the vehicle”.

·         In 2021, in the UK, a woman’s coat went up in flames after her e-cigarette battery exploded in her pocket. 

E-cigarette related injuries in the ASEAN Region

Explosions and injuries related to e-cigarette use have been reported in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

  • Indonesia: A middle-aged man was reportedly hospitalized with burns to his chest, eyelids, and fingers after his e-cigarette exploded during use in 2016.
  • Malaysia: Three cases of e-cigarette related injuries were reported between 2015-2016.
  • The Philippines: Three cases of e-cigarette explosions were reported in 2016-2018. In 2017, a vape suddenly explodeswhile a Filipino smoker was testing it out in a shop and is injured. In 2018, a 17-year old Filipino teenager suffered serious burns after his vape exploded in his face.

There appears to be no information in the public domain on investigation or government review into these injuries or product recall of e-cigarettes implicated in these incidents.

In the Philippines, the 2022 Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act which approved the sale of e-cigarettes only makes a general reference to standards, “… shall set technical standards for safety, consistency, and quality of the products requiring registration in the immediately succeeding section based on international standards”, but has no specific provision to address e-cigarette related injury such as those reported.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, e-cigarettes are sold without any standards.

Clearly, in addition to the mounting evidence on harms to health from using e-cigarettes, exploding e-cigarettes using lithium batteries presents yet another compelling reason to ban these products.

 

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