Although originally intended to be an alternative to traditional cigarette smoking, e-cigarettes are rapidly becoming an even greater concern than traditional cigarettes. And, unfortunately, the risks involved are still little-known.
Earlier this month, the University of Washington Medicine Regional Burn Center addressed this lack of awareness by releasing a study surrounding e-cigarette safety. This study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, showed the true extent of a worrying pattern emerging among vapers: horrific injuries caused by e-cigarette explosions.
New Report Spells Out the Reality
Researchers from UW have confirmed an increase in flame burns, chemical burns, and blast injuries from defective e-cigarette devices – as more devices have been found to unexpectedly explode in users’ faces.
Such injuries – images of which were released by the university alongside its report – are having dramatic cosmetic and functional consequences to the skin. Dr. Elisha Brownson, an author of the study, said that one patient’s injuries “left a gruesome impression” on her after an e-cigarette explosion knocked out his teeth. Many other e-cigarette and vaping device users have experienced burns or “traumatic tattoos” to the face (20 percent of cases), hands (33 percent), and legs (53 percent).
The outcomes of e-cigarette explosions have been so severe in some cases that extensive wound care and skin grafting is needed to repair the damage. In yet other cases, doctors report, the maimed tissue actually has to be surgically removed.
The UW burn center alone, between October 2015 and June this year, admitted 15 patients for e-cigarette burn treatment. The study points out that these incidents were initially thought to be rare – but that hospitals across the U.S. should expect to see an influx of similar cases due to the growing use of e-cigarettes.
Mounting Concerns Around E-Cigarette Use
Between 2009 and 2016, there were at least 134 reports of e-cigarettes overheating, catching fire, or exploding, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But until August this year, the FDA hadn’t yet started regulating e-cigarette safety.
Although the FDA has finally extended its regulatory authority to cover e-cigarettes, the dangers of e-cigarette use are still not fully understood – leaving the possibility open for further catastrophic injuries.
Many of these injuries are specifically caused by exploding lithium-ion batteries, which are active inside an e-cigarette device during vaping. These types of batteries, which provide power to many common hand-held devices, are usually safe. However, if the battery short-circuits or overheats, things can go wrong. And as we’ve seen previously with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, they can go very wrong indeed.
An Uncertain Future
Following the University of Washington’s recent revelation, it’s evident that e-cigarette use is now a public safety concern. But as far as whether vapers should discontinue use of their devices? There is no definitive answer.
Recent e-cigarette explosions have led to legal action against retailers, which has helped patients to deal with the aftereffects of devastating injuries. But what we really need, say researchers from UW, is prevention: increased regulation and changes in e-cigarette manufacturing and design.
Yet, the debate continues. Are e-cigarettes effective tools in the fight against smoking, or dangerous weapons to those hoping to quit? “There are risks associated with smoking e-cigarettes, but likely less than with smoking tobacco cigarettes,” says Dr. Christine Cho at National Jewish Health for Kids. However, she says, “the effectiveness of e-cigarette use as a method to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes is not known.”
So is the risk really worth it?
Until there is a concrete consensus on e-cigarette use among doctors and federal officials, the best thing users can do is be more aware. The FDA encourages those who have suffered from e-cigarette explosions to report their adverse experiences, so as to aid in future research.