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19 May 2016

Everything We Know About E-Cig Explosions [Infographic]

From August 2009, when the first incident was publicized, to April 2016, a total of 187 e-cig explosions have been reported by the media, in medical case reports and in online vaping forums. We’ve compiled a comprehensive timeline of these reports, with details on suspected cause and injuries, here. Our timeline will be continuously updated with the newest reports. Here are the results of our analysis:

E-Cig Explosion Infographic

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E-Cig Explosion Reports, 2009 – April 30, 2016

Explosions appear to be getting more common, though it’s possible that media sources have simply woken up to a long-standing issue.

In 2009, only one such incident was reported, after a shipment of cig-a-like vaporizers manufactured in China blew up aboard a FedEx flight from Indianapolis to Minnesota. The next year, no explosions were mentioned in the press. 2011 and 2012 saw relatively little attention, with 2 and 6 explosions reported respectively. In 2013, explosions entered the mainstream media in full-force, starting a trend that has only increased. That year, 29 explosions were reported. In 2014, 38 explosions were reported and, in 2015, 47 incidents made their way into the pages of newspapers. This year, from January 1st to April 30, 2016, 61 e-cig explosions have been publicized.

  • 2009 – 1 reported explosion
  • 2010 – 0 reported explosions
  • 2011 – 2 reported explosions
  • 2012 – 6 reported explosions
  • 2013 – 29 reported explosions
  • 2014 – 38 reported explosions
  • 2015 – 47 reported explosions
  • January – April 2016 – 61 reported explosions

Where Are E-Cigs Blowing Up?

E-cigarette explosions have been reported in 38 states and 11 countries, including the US. Here are the numbers according to location of explosion:

  • Alabama – 1
  • Arizona – 12
  • Arkansas – 1
  • California – 18
  • Colorado – 7
  • Connecticut – 1
  • Florida – 10
  • Georgia – 4
  • Hawaii – 2
  • Idaho – 2
  • Illinois – 1
  • Indiana – 1
  • Kansas – 1
  • Kentucky – 1
  • Louisiana – 1
  • Maryland – 2
  • Massachusetts – 1
  • Michigan – 4
  • Minnesota – 2
  • Missouri – 2
  • Montana – 1
  • Nebraska – 1
  • Nevada – 2
  • New Hampshire – 3
  • New Jersey – 2
  • New York – 6
  • North Carolina – 2
  • Ohio – 1
  • Oklahoma – 7
  • Oregon – 2
  • Pennsylvania – 2
  • Tennessee – 2
  • Texas – 6
  • Utah – 5
  • Virginia – 1
  • Washington – 2
  • Wisconsin – 1

That’s a total of 120 e-cig explosions reported in the US since 2009. Internationally, England accounts for another 38 explosions, while Scottish and Welsh news sources have highlighted 4 and 9 of their own cases respectively. Beyond the US and UK, reporting on explosions is rare:

  • Canada – 3 reported explosions
  • France – 3 reported explosions
  • Germany – 1 reported explosion
  • Norway – 1 reported explosion
  • Philippines – 1 reported explosion
  • Malaysia – 1 reported explosion
  • Bali – 1 reported explosion

For four reports, found on the vaping forum e-cigarette-forum.com, we could not determine a location.

Why Do E-Cigs Explode?

Experts believe that most e-cig explosions are caused by the lithium-ion batteries used to power vaporizers. The vast majority of explosion reports, in which interviews with local fire officials abound, corroborate this fact. Some reports bear clear signs of user error, while others appear spontaneous, perhaps due to defectively-manufactured batteries. In many reports, officials cite two major risk factors that increase the likelihood of an explosion:

  • carrying a spare battery (or improperly-sealed vaporizer) in the same pocket as keys, coins or other metal objects
  • charging a battery with an inappropriate charger

Until 2014, the majority of e-cig explosions were attributed to that second risk factor, using an inappropriate charger to recharge an e-cigarette’s battery. Understandably, most of these explosions resulted in property damage, either minor or substantial, but few personal injuries were reported. That appears to be changing. From our historical review of reported e-cigarette explosions, the circumstances surrounding these incidents seems to have changed over time, as has the damage most frequently sustained in the explosions.

Active Use & Spare Battery Explosions Rise, As Incidents Attributed To Charging Drop

In 2013, a year in which 29 e-cig explosions were publicized, nearly 83% of explosions happened while an e-cigarette was charging. 2014 saw a similar distribution of events, with almost 74% of explosions attributed to charging devices and around 8% described as occurring during active vaporizer use. But as explosions become more widely reported, a shift in circumstances also becomes observable.

In 2015, 47 e-cig explosions were reported, but only 14.9% of these incidents were attributed to charging e-cigs. Active e-cig use took a much larger share than in previous years, with more than 38% of the reported accidents having taken place in a vaper’s mouth, as they were depressing an e-cig’s activation button or checking an e-cig that seemed faulty after attempted use. Likewise, idle e-cigarettes, usually placed inside a user’s pocket, became a notable source of explosions, contributing to more than 21% of the explosions in 2015, compared to only 8% the previous year. Explosions blamed on spare batteries grew from 5.3% in 2014 to 17% in 2015.

Due to obvious constraints, our analysis of e-cig explosions in 2016 can only be considered preliminary at this time. But all signs point to a continuation of the trends observed between 2013 and 2015, with fewer explosions attributed to charging electronic cigarettes and more attributed to spare batteries and active e-cig use.

With 63 explosions already reported between January and April of this year, active vaporizer use has become the most frequently cited circumstance, accounting for 30.1% of incidents. Explosions involving spare batteries have taken a major share of reports, at 28.6%, and explosions attributed to idle e-cigarettes have likewise increased to 27%. Explosions involving charging e-cig batteries, on the other hand, have dropped substantially, to only 9.5% of the incidents reported so far.

Injuries & Property Damage

In line with this shift in circumstances, personal injuries seem to be on the rise, with reports of property damage decreasing.

In 2013:

  • 25 reports cited property damage
  • 5 cited burns
  • 1 explosion resulted in a human fatality

In 2014:

  • 29 reports cited property damage
  • 10 cited burns
  • 2 cited other personal injuries
  • 1 explosion resulted in human fatality
  • 2 explosions resulted in non-human fatalities

In 2015:

  • 15 reports cited property damage
  • 34 cited burns
  • 13 cited other personal injuries

In 2016 (January 1st – April 30th):

  • 13 reports cited property damage
  • 51 cited burns
  • 13 cited other personal injuries

Burns are rarely minor. Most reports describe second- and third-degree burns, with a minority describing these burns as chemical in origin. As the proportion of explosions attributed to active e-cig use has increased, the burns sustained have come to center on the face and mouth, with associated personal injuries, like lost teeth, severed tongues and shrapnel-induced facial wounds, fairly common. The rise in spare battery explosions, almost invariably held in a user’s pocket, have made severe leg burns extremely frequent. Hand burns usually accompany these incidents, as users struggle to remove a flaming battery from their pocket.

Reports of consumers who intend to file product liability lawsuits against e-cigarette manufacturers also seem to be on the rise.

Property damage ranges in extent. Many reports, especially those in which an e-cig was charging at the time, describe only charred walls and burned carpets. Again, the number of explosions started by charging electronic cigarettes seems to be dropping, but before that was the case, extensive house fires were frequent. In 2014, for example, 13 major house fires were attributed to charging e-cigs, many having erupted after a user left their device charging overnight. Vehicle damage is also common, since many e-cigarettes can be charged using a car charger.