Last week, a Hawaiian man lost four teeth when his e-cigarette exploded in his mouth. He got 40 stitches, and the loss of his teeth will have him looking for dental implants. He also suffered serious burns to his lips and hand.
As e-cigarette usage becomes more common, we can expect more of these explosions to occur. But just how frequent are these explosions? Is there any way you can protect yourself? And do these explosions mean that e-cigarettes are as dangerous as traditional tobacco cigarettes?
How Common Are E-Cigarette Explosions?
The basic answer is that we don’t know how common these injuries are. A 2014 report from the US Fire Administration reported only 25 known e-cigarette explosions. More recently, an independent website collected a list 243 e-cigarette explosions from 2009 to April 2017. The advantage of this list is that it doesn’t just report the explosions, but talks about the model involved and the probable cause of explosions. But even this list is likely incomplete because it relies on media reports of injuries, and relatively few e-cigarette explosions are likely to be reported.
A more comprehensive account of e-cigarette injuries comes from the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC). The UWMC report records all cases of people coming in for e-cigarette injuries at the hospital over a period of nine months. They reported 15 e-cigarette injuries. Extrapolating from these incidents, we get a potential estimate of as many as 15,000 e-cigarette explosions each year across the US. However, that estimate is most likely an upper limit because the student population served by the UWMC likely has higher e-cigarette usage than the US average.
Can You Protect Yourself from E-Cigarette Explosions?
The site that compiled the e-cigarette explosion list offers some guidelines for avoiding explosions. These guidelines generally correspond to safe usage guidelines for lithium ion batteries, which power e-cigarettes:
- Follow charging guidelines
- Don’t charge batteries unattended
- Carry spare batteries in cases
- Discard batteries with visible damage
- Use caution with “mechanical mod” e-cigarettes
- Use hybrid mods only with included equipment
Mechanical mods are very basic designs of e-cigarettes that have a high potential of shorting out because there are few systems to control the flow of current in the battery. These can easily lead to runaway heating and then explosions.
Hybrid mods also have a high potential for shorts because the atomizer connects directly with the battery.
Are E-Cigarettes Safer Than Tobacco?
At this point, it’s hard to know whether e-cigarettes are safer or more dangerous than traditional tobacco cigarettes. Although e-cigarettes can damage your gums, recent research implies that switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes can significantly improve the health of your gums.
We can’t recommend one habit over the other, but do feel comfortable saying that not smoking or vaping is the best way to protect your oral health.