Yes, There’s a Vape Explosion, But Sometimes in More Ways Than One
Is it true that vape pens and other gear are inherently unsafe and can literally blow up in your face? We dispatched our vaping sleuths to find out.
The vaping industry is booming, and all you have to do to see proof of the enormous and growing popularity of e-cigarettes is look around you at the number of people vaping on the streets, the number of vape shops popping up all over, and the internet ads and online vape stores selling vape gear. Vaping has really taken off, and it’s driven in large part by smokers wanting to kick their unhealthy habit and get off tobacco for good — a difficult prospect but one made easy with e-cigarettes.
Here in the United States, we still have around 34.3 million people among us who smoke combustible cigarettes, putting their health and those of everyone around them at risk. We know that more than 41,000 peoplein the US die each year as the result of exposure to secondhand smoke and that nearly half a million Americans (over 480,000) who smoke die from their addiction to cigarettes, through various cancers and other diseases caused by the toxins they inhale.
Now, however, around 11 million Americans— many of them former smokers who have managed to quit — are active vapers. One in three of them are using e-cigarettes every day, and as the market for tobacco cigarettes slowly starts to dry up, the companies that make them are beginning to stub out themselves and switch over to making their own vaping products. Sometimes, things don’t always go right with e-cigarettes and occasionally, the media reports gleefully on another vape explosion. What’s causing vapes to malfunction; how widespread is the problem, if at all; and what can you do to protect yourself from the potential of a vape explosion that might cause you some harm?
What’s All the Vape Explosion Fuss About?
Certain types of newspapers, and news websites, love a good sensationalist story, and seemingly none more so than a small device used to vape e-liquid going up in flames and causing chaos and destruction all round. But that’s not what happens, and in most cases when there’s a vape explosion, it’s a relatively minor affair and nothing much to write home about — even if tabloid journalists seize on some social media post about a vape going wrong and write a scandalous story about it. Would the same tabloid media that appear to have it in for vape companies prefer that people continued smoking instead, and became sick and died from their addiction?
Part of the problem may lie with social media itself, as these days, everyone is all too keen to document the tiniest part of what ultimately are quite ordinary lives — and anything out of the ordinary, like a malfunctioning vape, can be viewed as exciting and something to cause a spark on social media, where it’s immediately posted and lapped up by the media.
Instead of doing real journalism work — as in getting the facts and figures and speaking to experts in the field — many news organizations are instead now relying solely on Instagram, Twitter and other social networks as their primary source of “newsgathering” — as it doesn’t cost anything — and this can create a greatly skewed picture and leave readers in the dark. The current epidemic of fake news has unfortunate origins in social media and lazy journalism.
What Causes a Vape Explosion?
E-cigarettes like vape pens, vape mods, pod mods and all the other kinds now easily available from a good online vape store are made up of a number of components. Essentially, they’re all the same and just variations of each other; they include a battery, various small electronic controls, a chamber where vape juice is heated to produce vapor, and a mouthpiece to inhale the flavors and nicotine, if there are any.
There’s not much that can actually go wrong with vapes and cause a vape explosion: vape juice can’t spontaneously combust and explode, for instance, as there’s nothing in it to cause such an occurrence. What can go awry, as with any electronic device, is the battery. Vape pens and other gear are normally powered by a rechargeable lithium battery; they’re meant to be highly reliable and deliver power over long periods of use.
But sometimes, they can overheat and cause problems, and it’s not something that’s limited to electronic cigarettes — a brand of smartphone has also been in the headlines for its dodgy battery (also lithium), which kept catching fire. So are lithium batteries inherently unsafe? Not exactly.
The problem is that demand for mobile electronic gadgets and devices is overwhelming, while the technology used to keep them going is, well, underwhelming, if not entirely lacking. Battery technology has not kept up with the fast-paced tech times, as anyone whose phone won’t last all day after a full charge — which is most of us — will sadly attest. Lithium batteries are designed to pack more power density into their small spaces, but if not handled correctly, things can, and do, go wrong.
It can be something as simple as not connecting one properly and as a result, it may short-circuit and overheat. It might also be carrying a spare battery in your pocket along with metal objects like keys and coins, which can spark a charge — and a potential explosion. And, obviously, tampering with any battery, in an attempt to modify it and perhaps get more power, is dangerous and definitely not recommended, whether for vape gear or any kind of electronic device.
Tips to Avoid Vape Explosions
All electronic devices should be handled and treated with care; otherwise, you risk them not only breaking down but potentially causing injury too. With vape gear like pod mods and vape mods, it’s essential to look after them properly, and you can start by buying gear that has additional safety features, which can include a lock for the firing button and a cut-off to prevent devices from overcharging and, therefore, overheating.
If your vape batteries come in contact with water, or even moisture in the air, they may become damaged, and it’s important to dispose of them and replace them with new ones. This can mean keeping your vape gear out of the rain or places where there may be a large buildup of moisture, like in the bathroom. As as you can see from the image above, loose vape batteries and other metal elements are not a good idea; so if you’re planning on carrying spare batteries, keep them away from everything else. If you’re traveling with your vapes and additional batteries so that you don’t run out while you’re on the road, you’ll need to be aware that vape batteries are not allowed in airline check-in luggage, due to potential problems, and you’ll be required to carry them in your cabin luggage or pockets.
Additionally, when trying to prevent a vape explosion from occurring, always read the device manual and the charging instructions — and never charge your e-cigarettes with anything other than the supplied cable. If you can’t find it and are tempted to use something else that looks like it might fit, like a phone charger — don’t. Doing so could result in overcharging and a potential fire. Never charge your vape battery overnight, when you’re not around or awake should something happen — always charge your batteries when you are present and able to deal with any problems that might arise. Finally, never try to swap out your vape battery for another kind; yours is designed for your particular device, and nothing else should be used.
Vape Explosions ‘Very Rare’
As part of an official report last year, an agency of the British government, Public Health England, not only examined any health risks from using e-cigarettes compared to smoking — it found practically none — but also the possibility of a vape explosion happening while using them. The agency discovered that there are three million vapers in the UK — and those looking for the best e cig in the UK usually get them from a growing number of physical and online vape stores — at present and around nine million people who regularly smoke, and after obtaining records from other government departments, it could find no cases of deaths from vape explosions during all of 2018.
“Exploding e-cigarettes can cause severe burns and injuries that require intensive and prolonged medical treatment, especially when they explode in users’ hands, pockets or mouths,” it said. “Incidents are very rare, the cause is uncertain but appears to be related to malfunctioning lithium-ion batteries.” The health authority said e-cigarettes were a safe alternative to smoking tobacco and that cigarettes “cause many more fires and injuries annually.” It added that “where recorded, [fires from vapes] occur in low numbers and are vastly outweighed by fires caused by smokers’ materials.”
Indeed, last year, London Fire Brigade said that such is the scale of the problem of cigarette-started fires that firefighters were battling almost a dozen such blazes every week. “Last year, there were around 11 smoking-related fires per week and at least one smoking-related fire fatality every month,” its director of operations, Tom George, said. “These are often small fires started when people have fallen asleep smoking or have been drinking and smoking. It’s not uncommon for people to have died in these sorts of fires before the alarm is even raised.”
Meanwhile, a doctor at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester who specializes in burns and plastic surgery has said it is also rare for his department to see many injuries caused by malfunctioning e-cigarettes.
“We come across these cases about one or twice a year. They are mostly of minor injuries with small areas of burns,” said Dr. Humayun Khan. “As I recall, they are mostly related to leakage or overheating of the batteries rather than an explosion. We have treated these superficial burns without surgery.”
So the message regarding fires and vape explosions is that they are largely isolated incidents and usually the result of a damaged battery, someone tinkering with a battery or casually carrying batteries in pockets with other metal materials. Compared to the enormous health and other risks associated with smoking — including deadly fires, as we’ve just seen — vaping is always the safer option.