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E Cigarette Explosion – The What, Why and How of Explosions

Exloding Electronic Cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes, commonly known as e-cigarettes or simply e-cigs were invented in a bid to offer a nicotine fix without the side effects of traditional tobacco cigarettes. However, e-cigs pose a unique risk that tobacco cigarettes don’t, and that is an e-cigarette explosion i.e. the cigarette blowing up in your face or pocket. Although, it’s usually the battery that explodes and not the device itself, we’ll still refer to it as an e-cig explosion.
First offered for sale in 2007, the devices have become extremely popular in the last few years. Thankfully, e-cig explosion isn’t a common occurring, but when it happens, it can cause severe damage, from property loss to severe injuries such as skin burns, fractured bones, broken teeth, and loss of eyesight.

How Worried Should You Be?

Electronic Cigarette Fires and Explosions, a report published by the U.S. Fire Administration in October 2014 shows some interesting data about e-cigs exploding. We’ve gathered the key takeaways from the 13-page report:

  • More than 2.5 million Americans use e-cigs (we’re sure this number has multiplied manifold in the last two years)
  • Electronic cigarette explosion or fires are very rare with only 25 incidents being reported by media between 2009 and August 2014
  • Nine injuries (two of which were serious) and no deaths occurred during these incidents
  • Shape and design of e-cigs make the li-ion batteries more prone to exploding

Considering there were only 25 e-cigs exploding out of 2.5 million users, you definitely feel reassured. To further encourage the vapers, American Vaping Association released a meaningful statement:

American Vaping Association“When charged and under proper conditions, vapor products pose no more of a fire risk than other products that use lithium ion batteries like cellphones and laptops. However, when your vapor products are subjected to extreme conditions or used with unwrapped or damaged batteries, shorts can occur.”

But no matter how uncommon the explosions are, you don’t want to be one of the 25 folks who made it to the news. In this guide, we’ll explore why an e-cigarette explodes and what you can do to avoid such mishap. But first, let’s take a quick look at some of the notable unfortunate incidents.

A Quick History of E-Cig Explosions

Of the several e-cigarette explosions reported by the media, here are some of the notable ones:

A Veteran Gets His Face Disfigured -  February 2012

According to ABC news, an e-cig exploded in Florida when a 57-year-old Vietnam war veteran was enjoying his vape. The man suffered serious injuries, got a few of his teeth knocked out and also lost some part of his tongue.

E-Cig Puts Everything on Fire - June 2013

fire-after-ecig-explosion

News on 6 reported about a man named Kyle Czeschin in Oklahoma, who had his e-cig charging through his laptop “like always” and the next thing he knows, "everything was on fire, my laptop was on fire, my lamp was on fire, the shades".

E-Cig Shoots 4-Foot Flames - September 2013

A news story published in WSB-TV tells us about a woman in Grant Park, who plugged her favorite e-cig to her laptop for charging. After a while, she saw it shooting four-foot flames across her living room. Fortunately, she was home when it happened, or she would have lost a lot more than just the burnt rug she used to unplug the device.

“A Bunch of Hot Oil Hit My Face” - January 2014

A North Carolina man who had worked as a firefighter for 20 years, told Daily News that his e-cig exploded in his face, causing severe injuries and described the experience as “a bunch of hot oil hit my face”. Even after spending some time in the hospital, the incident still hurts him as his left eyeball is now extremely sensitive to light and has a hard time seeing out of.

E-cig Batteries Catch Fire in Man’s Pocket – Jan 2016

The video below posted by NBC News shows a man who entered a gas station in Kentucky to grab a snack when suddenly his pant’s pockets burst into flames, and the blame goes to e-cig batteries he had in his pocket. The spare battery probably got short-circuit when it came in contact with the coins in the pocket. The man suffered second-degree burns.

What Causes E Cigarette Explosion?

What causes e-cig explosions?

To understand what really causes an e-cigarette to explode, we have created a pie chart of the 25 incidents reported by the U.S. Fire Administration in their above-mentioned report.

Rather unsurprisingly, most of the incidents occurred when the battery was being charged. Digging a little deeper into the data, we have compiled a list of the common causes of electronic cigarette explosions.  

  1. By far the major cause of explosions is people using a charger other than the one recommended by the manufacturer
  2. Using rewrapped/low-quality batteries
  3. Using damaged batteries
  4. Not knowing/respecting the limits of your batteries (for example, for most 18650 batteries recommended temperature ranges are: charge at 30-100F and discharge at 20-120F).
  5. Carrying spare batteries in pocket

Vape Without the Fireworks – How to Avoid E-Cigarette Explosion

Use High-Quality Vaping Gear

There are countless e-cigs and batteries available on the market as the e-cig industry hasn’t yet been regulated by an authority. Most of these manufacturers care only about money and will go any length to lower the quality of their products in order to increase their profit margins. Using these vaping gear can pose countless serious risks. On the other hand, gear by well-known manufacturers might cost a few extra bucks, however, they will not only offer a better vaping experience but will also offer safe operation. 

Only Use Batteries Rated for The Coil of Your Atomizer

To achieve bigger, thicker clouds, manufacturers offer atomizers that feature coils with extremely low resistance i.e. sub-ohm coils. These coils put a lot of burden on the batteries and make them work at their peak for extended periods of time. As a rule of thumb, lower the resistance, higher the battery power/discharge rate you require. However, your manufacturer will specify the type of batteries you should use with the atomizer, make sure you read the specification and follow them to avoid any accident.

Use the Charger Specially Designed for Your Battery

I can’t stress enough on this point as this is the major cause of most e-cigarette explosions. While the temptation is to use any charger that’s conveniently available, and sometimes they’ll work just fine, but their charging rate could be different from what the batteries can handle. As you can see in the pie chart above, 80% of e-cig batteries exploded when they were on charging. After some investigation, we found that in almost every incident, the user was charging the batteries with a charger other than the one specified by the manufacturer. 

Don’t Leave Charging Batteries Unattended

Another thing we noticed in the news reporting the e-cig explosions is that most of the users were nearby, and were able to control the fire before it caused further damage. Though it’s pretty hard as the batteries can take up to several hours to charge, but for added safety try not to leave your batteries unattended or go to sleep when they are charging.

Instantly Remove Fully Charged Batteries from Charger

If you don’t remove your batteries from the charger after they have been fully charged, the batteries at best will start losing their capacity to hold the charge, and at worst can explode because of the overflowing electricity. This is why many experts recommend not to charge batteries while you’re sleeping. 

Don’t Carry Batteries in Your Pocket
Another common reason for batteries getting short and causing severe burns is carrying spare batteries in your pocket. Upon getting in contact with other metallic objects such as coins or buttons in your jeans, short circuit can occur and batteries can explode like a Roman candle.

Store Batteries Safely
In case you must carry spare batteries, invest in a plastic case. It’s usually a very cheap but extremely handy accessory. But if you don’t have a case, store the batteries away from each other and away from metallic objects that can act as a conductor to cause short circuit.

Use Mech Mods Only If You Know Your Stuff

Most regulated mods have some sort of protection mechanism, which is absent in mechanical mods. Therefore, we recommend you to use mech mods only if you have sufficient experience with batteries and e-cig hardware, and understand at least the basics of electronics and ohm’s law.

Discard Damaged Batteries

This is a no-brainer; as soon as you see any type of visible damage on your battery – no matter how small – instantly discard them.

Protect Batteries from Extreme Heat
Charged or not, batteries can turn into a rocket if exposed to heat for a prolonged amount of time. You need to be especially careful in summers not leave the batteries in the glovebox of your car, or window sill in direct sunlight.

Turn-Off/Lock Your E-Cig When Carrying it in Your Pocket
If you have to carry your device in your pocket, make sure you turn it off beforehand. But if you want to do it for a very short amount of time, turning the device on and off can be a hassle, so you can ensure safety by locking your e-cig. If your e-cig has this feature (usually activated by pressing the up and down buttons together), you should lock your device even when you are using it, it will ensure that the voltage/wattage doesn’t change accidently.

TL;DR

In short, e-cigarette explosions are not very common, but they can be a nightmare for any vaper. Therefore, you should take all the precautionary measures to ensure your and your property’s safety, and the safety of people around you.

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