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Why are E-Cigarettes Blowing Up?

E-Cigarette Explodes in Man’s Pocket:

The poor guy is simply trying to pay for something at the Shell station when the battery in the e-cigarette in his pocket explodes. He was hospitalized with burns to his groin and hand. Here’s another video about a guy in Florida who is in a coma after his e-cig blew up in his face while he was vaping. The explosion shot the mouth piece down his throat where it may have exploded again.

E-cigarettes have become a multi-billion dollar industry. The potential for these devices to cause horrific injuries can be appreciated by simply watching the first several You Tube videos under “exploding e-cigarettes” where surveillance video captured the explosions. Just Google “exploding e-cigarettes” and you’ll also discover pages of stories about e-cigarette explosions resulting in terrible burn injuries.

Why are e-cigarettes exploding?

All e-cigarettes rely on a heating element that boils a liquid chemical solution. The solution is typically a combination of nicotine, flavoring, and various chemicals. The power source for the heating element is a lithium ion battery.

These batteries contain flammable electrolytes. When the electrolytes are heated to their boiling point, the pressure inside the battery can cause the battery to rupture, which in turn causes the electrolytes to catch on fire. Similar to what happens to the defective propellant in a Takata airbag, the pressure can cause the e-cigarette container and the battery to break apart and spray burning shrapnel. Explosions have occurred during vaping and while the e-cigs were in the user’s pocket. Reported injuries from exploding e-cigarettes include severe burns to the face, groin, hands, and legs; eye injuries including blindness; and coma.

Legal issues

The bad news for victims is that approximately 90% of e-cigarettes sold in the United States were made in China. Most of those are sold by retail vaping shops that may or may not have sufficient insurance coverage. As the plaintiffs in the Chinese drywall litigation learned, Chinese manufacturing defendants can be difficult to serve.

Moreover, China may not recognize a U.S. judgment, so collection can be problematic. The good news is that the products liability laws in states like Virginia recognize legal theories based upon breach of warranties against distributors. Virginia also recognizes joint and several liability, which means that one can sue the manufacturer, distributor, component parts manufacturers (e.g., the lithium battery manufacturer) and retailers, and collect the entire judgment against the insured or solvent defendants.

Can e-cigarettes be made to be safe?

Even though these devices are blowing up in consumers’ faces and in their pockets, they have gone largely unregulated. The civil justice system is the only way to hold the manufacturers of these defective devices responsible and to effect the change necessary to make these devices safer. I hesitate to use the word “safe” because a new study shows that the vapor from e-cigarettes contains two previously undiscovered cancer-causing chemicals. As the Washington Post reported today, researchers found that e-cigarette vapor contains 29 chemicals, two of which are considered probable carcinogens. According the the New England Journal of Medicine, the chemicals are used to create artificial smoke. When these chemicals are decomposed by being heated, they also release toxic chemicals such as acrolein and formaldehyde. The myth that vaping is safe is being debunked by science.

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