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E-cigarettes: Harmless? Not Hardly.

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When e-cigarettes came along, they seemed like an answered prayer to some, with their claims that using one causes less harm to your body than smoking a regular cigarette. After all, it’s the smoke that does most of the damage to our lungs, and “vaping,” or using an e-cigarette, does not involve taking in smoke. Additionally, the dangerous chemicals found in both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes appear in much smaller amounts in the “e” variety. So, if you feel you just can’t quit, e-cigarettes can seem like a miracle. It’s estimated that from 2.5 to 3.5 million people use e-cigarettes.

But they’re not harmless. For one thing, nicotine is an addictive substance that doesn’t do your body, especially your heart, any good. In addition, many of the nicotine fluids are flavored, which can make them more appealing to those who don’t currently smoke, especially kids and teens who prefer sweet tastes. Nicotine can negatively affect brain development in those who have not yet reached adulthood.

Maybe such risks don’t seem like a big deal to you. But did you know your e-cigarette can blow up?

Exploding Your Enjoyment

To know why an e-cigarette might explode, you need to understand how one is constructed. An e-cigarette uses a lithium-ion battery; some consider these kinds of batteries highly combustible. The battery is contained inside a cylinder and controls the operation of the e-cigarette, vaporizing the nicotine liquid so that it can be inhaled.

The problem, however, is that lithium-ion batteries can blow up under certain circumstances, often during or after charging. According to a FEMA report from 2014, 25 explosions and fires involving e-cigarettes occurred between January 2009 and August 2014, with nine injuries, of which two included serious burns. Because of the shape and construction of e-cigarettes, they are more likely to behave, as FEMA put it, like “flaming rockets” when the battery fails.

While there have been no deaths reported, consider two stories. The first one is the July, 2015, case of a young man from Destin, FL. His e-cigarette exploded while he was smoking it, causing severe facial and mouth injuries that required him to be airlifted to the University of Alabama’s Burn Unit. The second case is of a California woman whose e-cigarette exploded while she was charging it in her car during March, 2013, seriously burning her. She was recently awarded nearly $1.9 million in a suit she brought against the distributor of the e-cigarette.

Although e-cigarettes are not currently regulated by the FDA, that is likely to change, as proposals are in the works.

More Dangers of E-cigarettes

Perhaps you think the dangers of an exploding e-cigarette are too remote to worry about. Have you considered what might happen if your small child drank liquid nicotine? In 2014 alone, over 3,700 children were exposed to liquid nicotine, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC). One 18-month-old New York child died after drinking liquid nicotine. A single teaspoon can kill, and lesser amounts can cause severe reactions that require a trip to the emergency room.

Another danger can arise from custom formulations of liquid nicotine. In Milwaukee, it was discovered that one local and popular liquid nicotine mix contained high amounts of two chemicals that cause permanent lung disease — diacetyl and its chemical cousin, 2,3-pentanedione. If you must vape, be aware that some especially tasty formulations might have an excess of hazardous chemicals.

The Great American Smokeout

Quitting smoking—indeed, quitting all exposure to nicotine—is hard. Anyone who has been there can tell you that. But, if you are a smoker, the American Cancer Society has lots of information about resources to help you stop. On November 19, we hope you’ll join the Great American Smokeout. Not smoking at all, including not using e-cigarettes, is the healthiest choice you can make.

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