It’s not a myth: e-cigarettes are exploding. New accidents seem to be reported every other day, and vapers are beginning to worry. But media reports conflict on how common these explosions actually are.
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Many sources continue to rely on a federal review of e-cig explosions, published by the US Fire Administration in October 2014. That report looked at 25 separate explosions covered in the US media between 2009 and August 2014, and strongly suggested that only these 25 incidents had been reported. But that wasn’t true.
Our attorneys have compiled what is, to our knowledge, the most thorough timeline of e-cigarette explosion reports available. You can find the full list by clicking the button below:
Between August 14, 2009 and April 30, 2016, we identified 187 reported e-cig explosions, searching through both US-based and international media sources, along with popular vaping forums. By August 2014, legitimate mainstream media sources had reported nearly ten more e-cig explosions than were noted in the government’s report, covering 34 separate incidents in 17 states. Of course, that number doesn’t include an additional 21 explosions covered by UK reporters, both local and national names like the BBC and Daily Mail, during the same time period.
- Explosions involving charging e-cigs are down
- Incidents caused by spare batteries, during active use are increasing
In their report, the federal reviewers drew several conclusions, ones that may have been true at some point, but no longer appear to be accurate. Among the 25 reports included in their review, 80% had occurred while an e-cigarette battery had been charging. Our own analysis of these early reports largely supports this conclusion, with around 74% of the 34 reported explosions involving charging e-cigs. But this no longer seems to be the case.
In an extremely troubling trend, we’ve observed a significant decrease in the number of explosions that involve charging e-cigarettes. Far more common now are accidents in which spare batteries explode, usually in people’s pockets, or e-cigs blow up during use.
- 2011 – 0
- 2012 – 0
- 2013 – 1
- 2014 – 2
- 2015 – 8
- Jan 1 – April 2016 – 18
Active E-Cig Use
- 2011 – 0
- 2012 – 2
- 2013 – 1
- 2014 – 3
- 2015 – 18
- Jan 1 – April 2016 – 19
Personal Injury & Property Damage
- Reports of personal injuries, often severe burns, are on the rise
- Property damage appears less prevalent
- Four fatalities, human and non-human, have been publicized
Thus reports of property damage have dropped, peaking in 2014 at 29 house fires purportedly caused by e-cig batteries. The following year only 15 reported explosions led to property damage, while the beginning of 2016 is on track for around 39 reports of property damage, if current trends continue. Stories involving personal injury, on the other hand, often severe third-degree burns, have skyrocketed:
Property Damage – 82 Total Reports
- 2013 – 25 reports
- 2014 – 29 reports
- 2015 – 15 reports
- Jan 1 – April 2016 – 13 reports
Personal Injury – 128 Total Reports
- 2013 – 5
- 2014 – 12
- 2015 – 47
- Jan 1 – April 2016 2016 – 64
Two patterns of injury seem most prevalent. As you would expect, when an e-cig explodes during active use, the user sustains severe burns to the mouth and hands. Reports of associated injuries, including extensive dental damage and punctured tongues, are not uncommon. Idle batteries, often held in a user’s pocket, cause severe burns to the legs and then, as the victim struggles to remove the flaming device from their pocket, burns to the hands.
Thankfully, fatalities are few and far between. To date, four deaths have been linked to exploding e-cigs, including two human fatalities.
- In 2013, a UK nursing home resident’s electronic cigarette caught fire during use, in turn igniting a nearby aerosol canister. Emergency personnel were able to pull the woman from the ensuing blaze, but she later died of her injuries in the hospital.
Full story at the Derbyshire Times (published November 7, 2013)
- A family in Greater Manchester was left homeless after a charging e-cig exploded, starting a fire that ultimately destroyed their house. A neighbor’s cat was killed in the blaze.
Full story at the Daily Mail (published June 30, 2014)
- In 2014, firefighters in England responded to a house fire in Merseyside, discovering a 62-year-old man dead inside his living room. Officials later said that an e-cigarette, possibly plugged into an incompatible charger, had caught fire, igniting the man’s oxygen concentrator.
Full story at the International Business Times (published August 8, 2014)
- A UK family was able to escape their home after a charging e-cig exploded, setting the house ablaze. Their dog reportedly lost consciousness due to smoke inhalation and was killed.
Full story at the Stoke Sentinel (published November 8, 2014)
- Fire officials are unanimous: lithium-ion batteries cause e-cig explosions
- Specifics on manufacturers are rare
Batteries have been implicated in the majority of explosions. Safety experts have known for years that lithium-ion batteries present a significant risk, dangers that can be mitigated by replacing batteries once their casing has been chipped, keeping units away from water and other metal objects and, of course, following a manufacturer’s usage specifications. But few of the reported explosions bear clear signs of user error.
In fact, a disturbing rise in fires started by idle e-cig batteries, lithium-ion cells that were nowhere the heating coil of a vaporizer at the time of their explosions, suggests that some of these batteries may be marred by manufacturing defects. For that matter, many batteries marketed specifically to vapers are sold individually, without any warnings or instructions.
Few reports have specified the manufacturers behind the batteries connected to explosions. Details are so rare that we can’t yet draw any conclusions about which companies, if any, seem to be producing defective batteries. One manufacturer, however, stands out. Batteries made by Efest, a company based in Shenzhen, China, have been implicated in 10 explosions so far.