A 24-year-old Texas man died last month after the e-cigarette he was using exploded in his face. Debris from the device had severed an artery in his neck, leading to bleeding in the brain and a massive stroke.
The man’s death is a sad reminder of an ongoing lack of e-cigarette safety standards in the U.S. Regulation – as well as research into the health effects of vaping – remains in remarkably early stages of development despite the years of controversy surrounding the devices.
Here’s a look at what happened in this case and the past.
Texas Man Dies in E-Cigarette Explosion
On January 27, the man stopped by a vaping supplies store just outside Dallas Fort Worth to ask for help using his e-cigarette device, according to a CNN report. When he was told the store didn’t carry that particular brand, the man returned to his car, sat in the parking lot, and put his lips to the device.
Soon after, the store manager called an ambulance when he saw the man struggling in the parking lot. The man’s e-cigarette had exploded, sending shards of metal into his face and neck before he crawled from his car and collapsed.
The man was rushed to hospital and put into a medically induced coma. X-rays showed that part of the e-cigarette had traveled through his mouth and lodged in his throat. Two days later, hospital staff found the man face down on the floor after suffering a stroke – listed as the official cause of death after “penetrating trauma” to his carotid artery – just weeks shy of his 25 birthday.
Sadly, his death marks the second fatal e-cigarette explosion and the latest of injuries among thousands.
What’s Been Going on with E-Cigarettes?
The Texas man’s tragic death comes as concerns grow over the health effects of e-cigarette flavoring chemicals – particularly among young users – and links between vaping and cancer. But the controversy over e-cigarette explosions began years ago.
E-cigarettes, also known as vape pens, are lithium battery-operated devices that heat a liquid, or “e-juice,” to create vapor that can be inhaled like cigarette smoke. One rising concern is that the liquid contains toxic chemicals similar to those found in traditional cigarettes, which pokes holes in e-cigarette manufacturers’ argument that vaping is healthier than smoking. But the immediate hazard is the lithium-ion battery, which is prone to short-circuiting and, if it gets too hot, exploding.
Many e-cigarettes are designed to automatically shut off when they get too warm. But according to CBS Dallas Fort Worth, the Texas man was using a type of e-cigarette called a mechanical mod: a simple device with no internal safety features. With mechanical mods, said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, “there is no warning system other than the device becomes very hot.”
This latest e-cigarette explosion is at least the second in the U.S. to end in death. Last May, a 38-year-old man in Florida was killed when his e-cigarette exploded, burned 80 percent of his body, and shot a piece of the device into his head. Yet there have been many more injuries from vaping – some of them as serious as burns, broken neck, and loss of eyes or teeth – to embroil manufacturers in e-cigarette lawsuits.
At last count, emergency rooms in the U.S. saw more than 2,000 e-cigarette explosions and injuries between 2015 and 2017, according to a recent study by the Tobacco Control. An older report from the U.S. Fire Administration found there were only 195 incidents between 2009 and 2016. Not only is the current figure more than 10 times higher, but experts say it could be underestimated.
Even as the FDA cracks down on e-cigarette manufacturers and announces plans to stop an “epidemic” of youth vaping, the complete lack of safety standards on e-cigarette batteries is an alarming oversight for the millions of Americans who use them. Yes, the FDA is now developing standards, but it won’t require e-cigarette companies to apply for permission to stay on shelves until 2022.
In the meantime, the FDA offers safety tips and guidance on how to report an e-cigarette explosion – and the Texas man’s family hopes his death at least raises awareness of the risks.