Cigarettes are bad for you. It has been proven over and over again. And yet, people still need to get their nicotine fix. So e-cigarettes were developed.
E-cigarettes – including e-pens, e-pipes, e-cigars, and e-hookah – are known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). They are devices that allow users to inhale vapor containing nicotine or other substances. Some of them are designed to look like real cigarettes, while others are a bit more decorative.
The vapor from an e-cigarette comes from e-liquid contained in cartridges. To create an e-liquid, nicotine is extracted from tobacco and mixed with a base – usually propylene glycol – which often includes different flavors, colors, and other chemicals.
Despite their popularity, the effects of e-cigarettes aren’t fully known. What we do know is that e-cigarettes appear to be safer than regular cigarettes. Regular cigarettes produce smoke, which is one of the reasons they’re so bad for your lungs and overall health. E-cigarettes, on the other hand, don’t burn; they produce vapor instead.
Moreover, tests have been conducted in order to examine the dangerous chemicals given off by the two cigarettes. These tests show that the levels of dangerous chemicals from e-cigarettes are a fraction of what is produced by regular cigarettes.
So, yes, e-cigarettes appear to be safer. At least when it comes to your health. But regular cigarettes do have something going for them: they don’t blow up in your face or explode in your pocket.
E-Cigarettes’ Big Problem: Malfunctioning Batteries
As has been demonstrated in a number of recent instances, when the lithium-ion batteries in e-cigarettes malfunction, they can cause severe and horrific injuries – third-degree burns, fractured bones, and loss of eyesight.
The University of Colorado Hospital Burn Unit has already treated six patients so far this year for serious e-cigarette injuries, almost all of them needing skin grafts. One patient, 19-year old Alexander Shonkwiler, had painful burns on his upper thigh after his e-cigarette battery exploded in his pocket and set his pants on fire.
He said, “I heard what sounded almost like a sparkler going off, and then bang, a huge explosion, a huge flash of light and these flames were coming at my face. As I looked down, my leg was on fire. I ripped my pants off, and even with my pants off, my leg was still on fire because the battery acid sprayed all over my leg and dripped down my leg.”
Shonkwiler said he had taken the battery out of the e-cigarette and had it in his pocket with some change. The close proximity between the battery and the coins could have caused the short. But the e-cigarette package didn’t have a warning about the potential risk.
A 17-month old report from the U.S. Fire Administration suggests that the shape and design of an e-cigarette and how it is constructed can possibly make them more likely to act like “flaming rockets” when a battery malfunctions than other products with lithium-ion batteries such as a cellphone.
Harborview Medical Center in Seattle is treating one e-cigarette injury a month and has treated five since last October. Dr. Elisha Brownson said, “We initially thought this was a rare event, but this is increasing in frequency… We’re seeing significant tissue injury as well as damage to the mouth or the hands and the tendons. It basically combines a flame burn and a tissue blast injury.”
What Causes the Malfunction?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single answer to why these batteries are failing. But there are a few issues to note:
- There is a lack of manufacturing standards or testing programs across the e-cigarette industry
- E-cigarette users who modify their devices may be at a higher risk
- People use the wrong battery chargers
- Extreme temperatures – above 155 or below 50 – can cause malfunctions
- Malfunctions might occur if the device is charged too quickly or overcharged
- Cheaper cells are more likely to have a defect
Just as bad as these potential problems is the fact that there’s often no warning sign a battery might explode – regardless of whether e-cigarettes are in use or idle.
So what can an e-cigarette user do if their battery fails and causes burns and other injuries?
When it comes to personal injury, e-cigarette malfunctions fall under the defective products category along with things like car parts and medical equipment that stop working. We expect the products we use on a daily or regular basis to undergo numerous tests to ensure they are safe. If they aren’t safe and users sustain injuries, those individuals may be able to hold the people responsible for the product – manufacturers, designers, distributors, etc. – liable.
About the Author:
John K. Lawlor, a South Florida personal injury attorney who focuses his practice on complex personal injury, wrongful death, and professional malpractice, founded the law firm of Lawlor, White & Murphey in 1998. Since 1995, Mr. Lawlor’s trial advocacy and litigation skills, as well as his wide-ranging legal expertise, have provided plaintiffs and their families with a distinct advantage when seeking financial compensation and justice for injuries caused by the negligence of others. Mr. Lawlor is an EAGLE member of the Florida Bar Association and an active member of the American Association for Justice, the Broward County Justice Association, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and several professional associations.