"I thought a grenade went off:" Rare e-cig explosions, fires cause severe injuries

Man injured while vaping

As the popularity of e-cigarettes increases so do the number of very serious incidents involving explosions and fires from the devices' lithium ion batteries overheating.

"I thought a grenade went off," recalls Blake Chastain when his e-cigarette exploded. He only had it a week. Chastain nearly lost his eye.

"It is rare, but when it does happen the injuries are pretty severe," explains UAB Hospital Emergency Room physician and toxicologist Dr. Justin Arnold. He says they've seen deep facial burns and burns on thighs when an e-cigarette explodes in someone's pocket.

A federal report from the U.S. Fire Administration found a big jump in incidents from 2014-2016 as e-cig sales jumped. A number of smokers say the use e-cigarettes help them to quit smoking or cut down on their nicotine cravings.

Also concerning is the risk of children ingesting the flavored liquid refills. In 2014 the local poison control office had 117 calls and 49 so far this year. "Pretty quickly the child will have a lot of vomiting, nausea, and be sweaty. In some cases of high doses they can have seizures," warns Dr. Arnold.

Another potential risk, doctors say we don't know enough about the longterm health risks of e-cigs. "You can go to any small town and see a vape shop. Some make their own devices; a lot come from overseas," says Birmingham attorney Annesley DeGaris who has represented plaintiffs who have injuries from e-cigarette fires. He says it's time for the FDA to get more actively involved in regulations.

He says there are questions about what exactly is in the nicotine liquid. Also he tells us when the vial is heated up the vapor produces formaldehyde which is a known cancer causing agent.

As for Chastain, he's done with e-cigarettes. "I'm completely against it. I'm trying to get anyone and everyone I can to throw 'em out."

The U.S. Fire administration says when buying an e-cigarette look for products that have the UL mark. That means it's met certain, safety standards. Modifying or making your own device can be more risky.

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