e-Cigarette Battery Explosion – e-Cig News Special Report

e-Cigarette Explosion: Extended e-Cigarette News Coverage

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Media Coverage

You may have noticed the media has been dominated by the story of the terrible e-cigarette explosion that occurred in Nicely, FL Monday.   Since the story broke Tuesday on a local TV station, it has been picked up by the wire services, and therefore pretty likely you’ve seen the story in your own local media.

A Pensacola TV station provided an updated story Thursday night. The victim has been sent home from the burn unit.  The story also noted the the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has contacted the Nicely fire department for more information.

Few additional details have emerged from the traditional media.  Most are just repeating the story, some are sensationalizing it (I’m looking at you Daily Mail), but few sources are adding any germinal information.

A few of the reports include quotes from the co-founder at the TVECA.  Their response also did little to shed light on what to make of the incident.

Thomas Kiklas, co-founder of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, said the industry knows of no problems with the cigarettes or batteries exploding.

Kicklas said the cigarettes include a small battery and cartridge. The battery is designed to generate an electric charge when the device is inhaled. The charge sets off the vapor in the cigarette tube.

Kiklas cited a federal report that found 2.5 million Americans used electronic cigarettes last year.

“There have been billions and billions of puffs on the cigarettes and we have not heard of this happening before,” he said.

 e-Cigarette Community Reacts

Naturally, the online e-cigarette communities are also abuzz over the e-cigarette explosion.  Much of what’s going on is speculation as to what could have caused the incident. One post on the Electronic Cigarette Forum (ECF) has more information on the incident.  One poster contacted the Nicely fire department for additional information.

Keep in mind, this is basically unconfirmed information from a message board, but the information sheds some light on the situation.  Below is the information found on post 72 of this message board thread.

quote icon image Originally Posted by MaxxVapor viewpost right image

I just spoke to the Chief at North Bay Fire District in Niceville. The incident happened 2/13/12. The battery that failed was unrecognizable but they found several 3.0v (Cr123a) lithium ion batteries and a recharger so it strongly appears the man was using a MOD. For new people: Usually a tube like a flashlight that holds 2 of these batteries to create a more powerful ecigarette. ECF has been very vocal on the dangers of MODs using cheap, unprotected batteries or the incorrect load (rating) for the atomizer attached to it, etc.. These MODs are very common but this shows how dangerous they can be. Be careful people!
Hope Tom recovers quickly.

Based on the above information, some things can be inferred.  Please keep in mind, the above quote is not confirmed, and what I’m about to write is speculation and opinion on my part.

e-Cigarette Battery Safety

Because the batteries found were removable and 3 volt, it’s very likely the victim was using a mod.  Further, the most common use for 3v batteries is to run them “stacked” for 6 volt vaping.  This is a fairly common practice where 2 3v batteries are put together in a mod (usually a tube mod built to house a large 3.7v battery).

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Protected 3v batteries

Before diving in any further, it’s also important to note what else we don’t know. First, assuming the above information and assumptions are correct, we don’t know what specific device the person was using. We also don’t know the specific model of batteries (CR123 is a size, not a model).

The practice of stacking batteries is somewhat controversial.  Some vendors are adamant about users not stacking batteries in their devices.

The chances of a catastrophic battery failure increase when multiple batteries are involved.  Beyond the fact two batteries naturally double the odds of one battery failing, other risks like one of the batteries rapidly discharging into the second causing it to overcharge are possible.

Most potential battery failures can be avoided with protected or safe chemistry batteries. These batteries either feature electronics that cut power when it senses a fault, or are designed with a safer chemical composition than traditional lithium batteries.

Battery failures can happen even with single batteries.  There have also been other consumer electronics such as phones and laptops where lithium batteries failed leading to fires.

I urge you to brush up on the finer details of battery safety.  This article from the ECF is a good start.  If anyone knows of good resources for battery safety, please post a link in the comments.

e-Cigarette Mod safety

The second part of the equation is the actual device that was used.  The big question is what if any safety features were built into the device.

Back to the batteries for a second.  In case you didn’t brush up on battery safety yet.  What happens with lithium batteries when they fail is they batteries quickly vent off a gas.  Now in an open space, this isn’t a huge problem, the gas has somewhere to go.

Put the same battery in a sealed tube mod, and the gas has nowhere to dissipate.  What you essentially have is a pipe bomb.  The weakest part of that mod will eventually rupture.  This could likely result in an explosion.

If you’re unfamiliar with e-cigarette mods, I have an e-cig 101 article explaining the subject in more detail.

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The ProVari over-voltage E1 error

Most modern mods take this into account and have some method to allow gas to escape.  Most use a hole at the base of the e-cigarette.  This allows gas to escape away from the user’s face.

Some of the more advanced e-cigarettes, like the ProVari and Lavatube feature circuitry that cuts power to the device when it detects unsafe conditions as well.  In these cases, a fault should be detected before the e-cigarette battery fails and vents gas.

Safety features like vent holes are relatively new innovations.  One possible theory is that the victim had an older device built before vents were commonplace in e-cigarette mods.  The victim is a 2 year vaping veteran and mods can last for a long time, so it’s entirely possible.

Now What?

The reality of the situation is this.  Major media outlets are unlikely to talk about the technical details of the e-cigarette accident.  To be honest, I can understand that.  Mainstream news audiences aren’t really going to care about the specifics of lithium battery safety (even though stuff they use all the time is just as likely to fail).

No, we won’t know all the details unless the victim steps forward and spells out exactly what e-cigarette and batteries he was using exactly.

What we are left with then is a very sad cautionary tale about the safety of e-cigarettes.  It is important for everyone to understand the risks. It’s doubly important to make sure you understand proper safety and usage techniques to decrease the risk of catastrophic failure.

I’d love to say e-cigarettes are perfectly safe, but nothing is perfectly safe.

The other thing I would like to discuss is the reaction to all the media attention.  Many people would have liked to see this going away.  I too would rather not have such a sensational story pop up while we are fighting so many political battles to keep our e-cigarettes available.

However, burying something like this is not the answer.  This was a very real incident which sent someone to the hospital with severe injuries.  This needs to be talked about.

Our industry has always been a sort of wild west.  The closest thing we have to an industry group as seen by the media kind of took the denial approach.  The group even issued a press release attempting to distance themselves from e-cigarette mods. I disagree.

This is a serious thing, and it needs to be discussed in the open.  We as users of e-cigarettes have a right to know all the facts to make sound judgements.  Manufacturers need to know the facts so they can improve their e-cigarettes. We need to know that manufacturers are making those changes.

If we sweep everything under the rug, that important exchange of information won’t take place.

Update: The ECF posted a really good summary of all known catastrophic failures along with causes and battery safety information written in easily understandable language. Read it here.

Taking Advantage of the Situation

Prohibitionists have already begun to capitalize on the unfortunate events in Florida to cast doubt on e-cigarettes. An article in ABC news is a high-profile example.  The article starts by covering the accident and then giving the podium over to the FDA along with other anti-harm reduction proponents.

“First, we have no idea of what specific chemicals are contained in these products or the safety of components of e-cigs, including the batteries,” said Jay.

There is some data that has suggested using e-cigarettes will make “real” smoking more appealing to youth.

Sure, why not just toss in “for the kiddies” just as good measure? It’s a shame an orginization as large as ABC rather than using its considerable journalistic capabilities chose to take this approach.  Another option might have been to try to look into the actual root cause of the incident so people might be able to better protect themselves.  The International Business Times posted a shorter but similarly slanted article.

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33 thoughts on “e-Cigarette Battery Explosion – e-Cig News Special Report

  1. Being new to vaping this story scared the hell out of me. Since reading it I have been looking for similar stories and I have not found a single one. Sure I have found stories that tell of batteries exploding or catching on fire while charging but did not find a single mention of an e-cig injuring a person while they were actively using the device. Maybe that is what the TVECA is trying to put out there. I don't know why they would not come out and say that though.

    Anyhow, I am curious if others have heard of similar incidents such as the one that happened in Florida this week.

    • To the best of my knowledge, this is the first instance of a battery explosion while actively using e-cigarettes. Other instances have happened while charging for the most part

  2. I do not want to make lite of what happened but stuff happens. My friend had a lighter blow up in her hand did not see anyone trying to ban lighters. Been gaping for four years never a problem. I do not stack and use good battery’s. My devices have vent holes.

  3. Great Article Steve! I feel we shouldn't hide from the issue either, but also don't like the scare tactics used to further e-cig bans or the FDA agenda. Hopefully the Victim will come out and exsplain what actually happened so all the speculation and fear mongering can end

    • I certainly agree, I just don't know how likely it is that will happen. Meanwhile the prohibitionists are having a field day and certain big box vendors are taking advantage of the situation to use fear to drive consumers to their products. Shameless

  4. "There is some data that has suggested using e-cigarettes will make “real” smoking more appealing to youth."

    And what data would that be? I call BS.

    • Odd the same people that refuse to admit research on e-cigs safety exists are more than happy to use a hunch as data

  5. Very nicely done Steve. Mr. Holloway being a Nam vet, a biker and a 2-year vape vet makes me think the man knows safety precautions and as you pointed out, devices with very similar if not the same power supplies explode. We just don't know and we want to know. Hopefully, he'll give an interview soon.

    • That's about the only way we'd know. Some people are perfectly aware of safety precautions but still take risks too. Or, of course he could have done everything right and a combination of defective battery and poorly-designed device could have been at fault. Or heck, both could have been right and it was just some freak occurrence.

  6. I have been using a Joye eGo for about a year and a half now (LOVE it)… No problems at all. What I'm wondering, though,is if I should be buying new rechargeable batteries for my device? I have been using the same two batteries since receiving it, but I don't know if I should be replacing batteries every so often. This story has me concerned, and I'd really like to know that I am vaping safely. Thanks =)

    • A year and a half is a pretty darn good amount of use for an eGo device. Of course the lifespan is more a factor of recharge cycles, so if you're a light user, that's not too surprising. My eGo batts last maybe 6 months. Anyway, it may be about time to replace those batteries anyway. Older batteries can have issues when recharging especially. I have seen some people recommend swapping batts out every 6 months or so. If nothing else, a new battery should give you a longer run time than your current ones :)

  7. Thanks for the information. This was a well written article. It's too bad the news media doesn't do its research as well.

    • Throughout the years, whenever the news did a story on something I knew a lot about, I always found the information was lacking in some regard.

  8. April Seward

    I know there are many ways to modify and increase power for e cigs that I have read about on the internet and various sites which sell parts for e cigs.
    Personally I use a "standard" product as it was manufactured and intended for use. (Smoke To Live) I think the areas for danger increase if we tamper with the products, and it's my humble opinion that modification is both unnecessary and dangerous. These products are not real cigarettes and trying to increase vapor production to more closely resemble cigarette smoke is silly. It is a cigarette substitution, not meant to produce the levels of "smoke" I see some folks yearning for.

    • There is a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding this incident. I hoped I was able to explain it in the article, but I'll reiterate some of those points here.

      First, there is still NO concrete evidence as to what the device actually was this person was using.

      Second, despite some rather unethical (in my opinion) attempts by certain e-cigarette companies to insinuate this individual somehow tampered with something. There is no evidence for that either.

      It is likely he was using a mod, but the word mod has gotten a little muddied. The majority of mods are built by companies these days. Some are even built in the exact same factories as the standard e-cigarette kits. In fact, I will go out on a limb here and say some of the more advanced e-cigarette mods have far superior protection circuitry than standard e-cigarettes.

      Bottom line is this, we need as much concrete information about the incident as possible. This will help users and manufacturers understand the conditions that caused this tragedy. It's not about declaring a class of devices as safer than any other, it's about protecting consumers.

  9. Hi Steve! I am using a 510-T from Ovale (which is the same as Joytech i think) and after the story, i am terrified! First of all, do you know if the 510 batteries are considered a MOD? If not, then do you think they are safer than the MODs?
    Should i be concered mate?
    Thanks!

    • Ovales are made by Joye. And no, I don't think that your e-cigarette would be particularly unsafe. In fact, I don't believe most mods to be unsafe. I'm at this point undecided on the practice of stacking batteries, but as a blanket statement, I don't believe most mods are unsafe. I'm beginning to see some vendors and even other sites attempt to capitalize on this incident by demonizing mods. Keep in mind most mods these days are made by companies. Home made devices are fairly uncommon. Even Joye mass produces Mods these days.

  10. Too many are over reacting to this incident. One should consider the odds of this happening to them, my guess, similar to being struck by lightning, far less than being hit by a car. Most battery powered devices are at risk of having similar occurrence whether it be a toothbrush, shaver or laptop. How many are worrying about any of these things happening to them. So relax and enjoy your vape, whatever it may be and worry about the next lightning strike. :)

    98% of my vaping is done on mods and I am far more concerned about being awakened in the middle of the night by an earthquake than any problems with vaping at any voltage or any combination of batteries.

    Errol

  11. GlobalWarmness

    Hi Steve – Great article, very reasoned and informative. I am, like others here, a bit concerned about safety and I'm trying not to fall victim to scare hype, but since I know next to nothing about batteries I feel a bit worried. I own two 1000mah batteries from MVS, purchased about a year ago. They work great, never had a problem. I routinely leave them charging overnite. I use them with LR cartomizers (1.5?) and I'd like your opinion as to whether or not that's a good combo, seeing as volts, ohms, mah, Li Ion, and NmH are all Chinese to me.

    • Personally, I don't think its an issue, but I'm hesitant to say authoritatively. I'm not an engineer, so my battery knowledge isn't that deep. I know that some people recommend not charging overnight since charging is when its most likely for an accident to happen. eGo batteries (which is what I'm guessing you have) tend to last only so long – they start losing charge faster, or the buttons stop working, things like that.

      My advice would be to read some of the resources on battery safety out there, and if possible try to recharge your batteries when you can keep an eye on them and take them off the charger as soon as they're charged. But above all, I don't feel there's a need to panic at all.

  12. GlobalWarmness

    Yep – they are eGo batts, and I've since started removing the battery from the charger instead of leaving it connected overnite. I'm just not sure if the LR carto would pose any compatibility issues with the 1000mah batt. Thanks for the reply.

  13. I also was informed of the exploding e cig from a couple of concerned friends. My e cig does get hot when I puff on it constantly but it never dawned on me that it might explode. I use the smartgreenliving e cig and it works great. I also would like to know more about the battery life. What did Tom do to his e cig that has us all wondering if were gonna be missing part of our tongues?o.0

    • A mini e-cigarette like the type you use has built in monitoring via the switch as well as a weak point (that ash cap at the end that lights up) to prevent build-up and explosion. We may never know what he did, or if there ends up being a lawsuit or something, it could be years before the truth comes out to the general public. There's a number of variables that could have led to the problem such as unprotected batteries, damaged batteries, improperly charged batteries, etc.

  14. Kay Robinson

    Here is a chart that I found thanks to ECF. I'll post it here for those who don't get to ECF. It tells you what ohm resistant cartomizer you should be using for what volt device. I have a couple of 650 mah eGo batteries, and I know those are 3.5 volt batteries..so a 1000 mah battery would be alittle higher than that. http://www.imageshack.us/f/689/unled66.jpg/

    To the guy who has been using the same batteries for two years, yeah, I'd start buying some new ones and rotating the old ones out….kind if depends on how often you've been using the same battery. Are you using the same battery over and over, or do you have several that you rotate? I've heard it said that a battery is good for about 600 recharges, so go by that if nothing else. You can also buy on of those volt meters for about $15, so it wouldn't hurt to have one on hand. NEVER leave any battery charging over night! As soon as it's done charging, take it off and let it sit for awhile before you use it. For that reason, I have 4 batteries that I use in rotation. That way, a battery will sit for about 4 days before I use it again after recharging.

    • That's a very good point. The battery life is all about charge cycles more than how long you've had it. If you charge a battery every few days it will last a lot longer than a battery that's charged several times a day. Six months is usually around the range I hear on eGo batteries, I was surprised to hear a couple people got much more out of theirs.

  15. Kay Robinson

    I've been doing some reading and found out that my eGo has a pulse volt set-up, so volt meters can't read it. :( Also have read about air holes that some devices have, just can't find out whether the eGo has these air holes or not, does anyone know? I read that gases can build up inside the battery container if it dosen't have air holes, and could go 'off like a rocket'. I'm like April, not into all the exxtra power stuff, just looking for something to keep me off of analogs. I LOVE my eGo! But if someone knows of a product that has about the same look and feel of an eGo that does have air holes (if eGo dosen't) than I'd like to check it out.

    • True, the inline volt meters like the one I reviewed a while back can't read pulsing regulators like those in an eGo. However, a multimeter can. Most eGos limit the current output (hence the pulsing) so they'll probably always read around 3.5v The end caps in eGos are supposed to blow out in the event of the internal battery outgassing. There's one case that showed this didn't happen. However, the few eGo issues have happened while charging, not while in use. Also, if you have one of the eGo models that has a USB pass-through, the USB connector is a natural weak point (which means any sort of gas venting would pop the connector out preventing an explosion).

  16. I don't necessarily think heating is a sign of impending failure in that case. Many times it's simply the heat from the atomizer transferring to the battery via the connector to make it feel warm. I suppose it's possible, and if an e-cigarette got hot to the touch, especially if you hadn't been vaping long, that might be a warning sign.