On Your Side investigators uncover an alarming spike in e-cigarette explosions

Posted at 2:29 PM, Feb 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-28 14:29:23-05

You’ve probably seen the videos online or on your local news station.

Without warning, e-cigarette batteries explode into flames.

Victims and burn care specialists tell On Your Side Investigators it’s a growing concern that needs to be addressed by public health officials.

Working with colleagues around the country, On Your Side Investigators have compiled what we believe to be the only comprehensive list of e-cigarette explosions in the country. Our team reviewed public records, court filing, internet reports, and fire response records.

In the last few years, there were at least 5 cases treated at the Comprehensive Burn Care Center at Metrohealth Medical Center, one of just four Ohio burn centers verified by the American Burn Association.

“The first time you see it, you think it's just a fluke,’" said Dr. Anjay Khandelwal, co-director of the burn center. “Then you start seeing them, you know, recurrently over the course of a couple years and you realize, wait a second, this is probably something we're going to start seeing more of as the year’s progress,” he said.

Doctors at UCHealth Burn Center in Denver, Colorado said they’re also concerned about the spike they’ve seen in e-cigarette explosions.

“We didn’t see this two years ago,” said Dr. Arek Wiktor. “We’ve seen a significant increase in these in the past year.”

Our investigative team spoke with Greg Ingram, one of 16 victims treated at UCHealth last year.

“My pants caught fire and the flames shot out and got my thumb, and then I went to pat it out and my whole pocket just erupted,” Ingram said.

Currently, e-cigarettes are not required to include a warning the batteries could explode. On Your Side Investigators also found no state agencies, including the Ohio Department of Health, track e-cigarette explosions.

“I think that it's time we need to look into these injuries,” said Dr. Khandelwal. “If we realize there is an inherent risk to these products, perhaps a warning label or some sort of warning system needs to be put in place. It is concerning that we are seeing a number of injuries from this product."

On Your Side Investigators contacted the American Vaping Association, the industry’s lobbying group.

President Greg Conley sent us the following statement:

When charged, stored, and used under proper conditions, vapor products pose no more of a fire risk than cellphones and laptops that use similar lithium-ion batteries. However, when vapor products are subjected to extreme conditions or used with unwrapped or damaged batteries, short circuits can occur. For those consumers using or wishing to use more advanced products, learning and practicing battery safety is a must. (see here ) For example, there have been numerous cases of batteries short circuiting after the user left their batteries in their pockets. Whether it's the batteries intended for use in a flashlight or a vapor product, carrying batteries unprotected is a terrible idea. Most vape shops now carry battery cases and some provide them for free or refuse to sell loose batteries to those who don't have a case.

E-cigarette users, like Ingram, told us they were not informed they should carry the batteries in a case when they purchased their e-cigarettes.

“Be extremely cautious,” said Ingram. “If not, just don't use them at all. It's very dangerous."

There are currently more than 800 vape stores and 150 e-liquid manufacturers in Ohio, according to Conley.