Claimed rarity of e-cigarette explosions isn’t the point

Back in the 1970s, a clever marketer came up with the line: “Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible.” Today, the phrase might go, “Without electronics, life itself would be impossible.” Everybody has some form of battery-powered device in hand: a cell phone, smartphone or car fob. Battery-powered devices are replacing even cigarettes.

Promoters of these electronic nicotine delivery systems, or e-cigarettes, suggest they are safer than regular tobacco. The jury is still out on that issue. What is clear is that e-cigarettes are gaining in popularity and equally clear is that the lithium-ion batteries that power them pose a risk of serious injury if they explode.

All it takes is one

Those who track the e-cigarette trend acknowledge that instances of exploding batteries are rare. According to one marketing analytics firm, the number of e-cigarette users in the United States currently stands at around 2.8 million. Meanwhile, a federal government report says that from January 2009 to the end of 2016 there were slightly fewer than 200 fire or explosion incidents.

That’s admittedly a low number. And, as an e-cigarette industry newsletter observes, it is a “drop in the bucket” compared to the estimated 90,000 U.S. fires caused by tobacco smokers annually. But, those who serve clients injured by these devices know, that isn’t the point.

What the data confirms is that explosions and fires can happen. According to the government’s report, most of the events recorded occurred while the devices were in use, in a person’s pocket or being charged. Eighty victims suffered moderate injuries that required at least emergency room care. Thirty-eight individuals lost a body part, suffered facial burns or 3rd-degree burns.

Proponents of ENDS devices may take comfort in the fact that explosions and fires are rare. But considering their potentially debilitating effects, we believe one is too many.

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