What Potential Dangers Lurk in E-Cigarettes and Vape Pens?

Author: Derrick L. Walker, Personal Injury Attorney

Despite steadily declining smoking rates over the years, more and more Americans are trading in traditional tobacco products for electronic cigarettes. Because they are thought of as a safe alternative to regular cigarettes due to the absence of harmful secondhand smoke, e-cigarettes and the retailers selling them have become abundant. Proponents of e-cigarettes advertise them as helpful in “kicking the habit” for traditional smokers, but those who swap smoke for vapor may be trading one danger for another.

There are many reasons people may choose to use e-cigarettes, and that use has increased exponentially since they hit the market. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 13 percent of U.S. adults have tried e-cigarettes on at least one occasion, while nearly four percent consider themselves regular users. E-cigarettes are also wildly popular among teenagers. Rates of use have tripled in this demographic since 2014.

How e-cigarettes work

How do these products work? The typical e-cigarette includes a number of components: a rechargeable lithium battery, a cartridge containing nicotine, flavoring additives, other chemicals such as glycol or glycerin, an atomizer containing a heating element or coil, an LED light which simulates the burn of a regular cigarette, and a sensor that activates the atomizer when the user takes a drag. The device works when the atomizer heats the liquid contained in the cartridge to a boiling point, thereby creating vapor which is inhaled by the user - thus, the term “vaping.”

The Surprising Risks

In addition to the negative health risks associated with inhaling the vapor produced by these products, there is also evidence that e-cigarettes may be susceptible to explosion due to battery failure. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, when the battery seal in these devices ruptures, pressure within the device builds up causing the container and/or battery to rupture.

In some cases, the explosion can be violent. As one might expect, these explosions, which can occur during use, result in devastating and disfiguring blast injuries. The $2 billion e-cigarette industry compounds the problem by continuing to bring these products to the market without appropriate warnings that would apprise unwitting consumers of the potential explosion hazard.   

Because e-cigarettes are relatively new to the consumer market, they remain largely unregulated. The same is true for the lithium batteries used to power these devices. Recently, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended regulations which could give the agency more control over these products. Consumers need to be aware that these devices are controversial because of the way they are marketed and because they have an unreasonably safe design.

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