Many smokers in Alaska have switched from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes. Though the long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes are mostly unknown, using e-cigarettes were said to be about 95% less harmful than smoking in a report published by the Public Health England in 2015.
The act of using e-cigarettes is called “vaping,” and it is hard not to notice the scores of vape shops that have opened in Anchorage and all across the state in the last few years. In fact, the electronic cigarette business has grown into a $6 billion-dollar industry.
Vapers, as users of e-cigarettes are called, believe that they are using a safer alternative to smoking, and e-cigarettes have helped many smokers quit. E-cigarettes work by using a lithium-ion battery to power an atomizer which heats a liquid to boiling when a user inhales. The heated liquid produces a vapor, which is inhaled.
While there is dispute about how safe or harmful the various liquids are that are used in e-cigarettes, there has been an unexpected harmful side effect. Though typically safe, the lithium-ion batteries have been causing some devices to explode, leading to burns and tissue loss to the hands, faces and groin areas of victims.
The explosions are due to thermal runaway of the batteries. When lithium-ion cells with cobalt cathodes rise above 150 degrees, the cell becomes thermally unstable. This condition can lead to a thermal runaway in which flaming gases are vented. The high heat of the failing cell can then spread to the next cell, causing it to become thermally unstable as well.
Typically, the explosions were the result of extended charging, use of unsuitable chargers, poor quality components or design flaws.
“People who use e-cigarettes must be aware of the danger of explosion,” said Dr. Elisha Brownson, who works at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. While working at the University of Washington Medicine Regional Burn Center in Seattle, Dr. Brownson observed a young man who had his teeth blown out after his e-cigarette exploded in his mouth.
To minimize the risk, vapers “should not alter the device and should keep batteries safely stored when not in use,” Brownson said. “However, even with these precautions, we have seen explosions occur.”If you use e-cigarettes, you should not tamper with the device in any way and follow the product’s directions for safe storage. Anyone who has been injured by a malfunctioning or exploding e-cigarette should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer