In a sad event in Texas last week, 24-year-old William Brown was killed when (what the media called) his “vape pen” exploded, severing his carotid artery in a senseless, ultimately fatal tragedy.
In an unexpected series of events, the device seemed to overheat after a battery overheating situation, suddenly exploding, launching debris into Brown’s neck and face, and causing the fatal wound.
According to reports, after the incident, Brown managed to crawl out of the car and collapsed on the pavement. A nearby witness called an ambulance and transported him to a nearby hospital, where he succumbed to the injuries two days later.
The medical examiner later ruled that his cause of death was trauma from an exploding vaporizer pen, making him at least the second person in the United States to be killed by an exploding vape device, following a tragedy in Florida a few years back.
Though it’s unclear if she was in the car when it happened, the victim’s grandmother, Alice Brown, recapped the situation, saying the device “popped” and then “exploded.” Though details about the device have not yet been released, in our experience with vaping, this is typical of battery malfunctions on unregulated devices.
In the aforementioned Florida tragedy, the crime scene turned up evidence that the exploding device was a mechanical mod with poorly fit batteries. Later evidence showed that the mod was likely home-built, or at the very least, modified beyond its mechanical capabilities.
Was This Vaping Tragedy Avoidable?
We can’t speculate what caused William Brown’s vape device to explode, nor will we turn to a tragedy to drive page visits. But we can’t help but wonder if this was preventable through education and understanding – on the part of the victim, the shop that sold him his vape mod, and the general public.
After Brown’s death, it was revealed he was not a regular smoker by those who knew him, and actually suffered from asthma. Yet, he purchased the vape mod after being told it might improve his breathing. In there lies part of the problem. Who told him this? At what point have we reached such levels of misinformation that vaping is now considered a form of lung therapy?!
(Vaping offers harm prevention and reduction, sure. But it’s a little early to call it therapeutic, friends.)
Secondly, much of the education should have come from the vape shop itself. We won’t put them on blast here – it’s not likely this was intentional or even the result of an oversight. But there definitely needs to be a better process for demonstrating and explaining vape mods of all kinds. They are all electronic, battery-powered devices, and all have the ability to malfunction with misuse.
But an explosion of this magnitude was clearly the result of something larger – perhaps unregulated and unprotected. And likely a lot more power than a first-time vaper/casual smoker would ever need.
The US Fire Administration statistics claims that 133 acute injuries from e-cigarettes, vape mods and other devices were reported between 2009 and 2016.
In the lion’s share of these cases, the explosions occurred while the device was being used or stored improperly. In other words, situations like carrying loose batteries around keys or coins, stacking batteries incorrectly, or pushing the mod by using improper atomizers.
Human mistakes, to be sure. But also avoidable ones – ones that could be avoided through better vetting of customer needs. A new vaper likely doesn’t need massive amounts of wattage, much less an unregulated device with questionable battery protection.
If there’s any truth to Brown needing the mod for therapeutic reasons, then no device should have been sold to him without a physician’s orders. And the last we checked, vape shops didn’t operate like pharmacies.
Finally, the education needs to extend to the media. While there doesn’t seem to be any “baiting” language used in the accounts we’ve read, the focus remains squarely on vape devices being unsafe, further staining their reputation among the masses.
Instead, the media needs to explain how the malfunction happened (once this info is released), highlight how it could have been rectified, then shown how a beginning vaper like Brown could have been spared an unfortunate, avoidable death. Instead of vilifying an entire industry, let’s get to the brass tacks of education and understanding.
We only hope this tragic loss serves as a wake up call for vapers and non-vapers alike to better educate themselves about the facts, fiction and function of advanced vaping devices. All of us at Spinfuel VAPE extend our condolences to Brown’s friends and family during this terrible time.