a man vaping looking to the right with downtown Los Angeles California in the background

Are vapes safer today than they were a few years ago?

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Several years ago you may remember hearing news stories warning about the dangers of vapes, or eCigarettes, which would occasionally have defective batteries which would eventually explode, sometimes injuring the owner or other nearby parties.

These stories were completely true, and many lawsuits have been filed forcing the manufacturers of these vapes to take efforts to improve their products and reduce future injuries. So, in theory, vapes in late 2023 should be safer than vapes from several years ago, right? This article will investigate that very claim and determine if vapes really have become safer over time. But first, we will review a brief history of vape explosion lawsuits.

What companies were the main manufacturers of exploding vapes?

One of the main vape manufacturers that was in the news when exploding vapes started to capture the attention of Americans was the company Juul. However, the issue of exploding vapes, particularly related to the mid-2010s, was not confined to a single manufacturer or brand. Instead, it was a broader issue associated with the lithium-ion batteries used in these devices. Many brands and manufacturers of vaping devices and e-cigarettes were affected by these incidents. However, it’s important to note that the reports of explosions were not widespread across all products but were more commonly associated with certain types of devices or misuse of the products.

Generic or off-brand vaping devices, especially those with poorly manufactured or unregulated batteries, were often implicated in these incidents. The issue was more prevalent among certain types of modifiable vaping devices, where users could alter or customize various components, including the battery. This increased the risk of mishandling or using incompatible parts, leading to overheating and potential explosions.

Major, well-established vaping companies typically adhered to higher safety standards, but the rapidly growing and at times loosely regulated market did see a range of products with varying degrees of quality and safety. Over time, increased awareness and improved regulations have led to enhanced safety measures in the design and manufacture of vaping devices.

How many people have been injured by exploding vapes in the United States?

Between 2010 and 2019, there were 19,306 reported cases of exposure to e-cigarettes in the United States, of which 69 were e-cigarette-related burn cases. These cases were identified from data reported to poison control centers. The number of e-cigarette-related burn cases peaked in 2016 with 26 incidents, then decreased to three in 2019. Among these cases, the majority of burn incidents occurred among young adults aged 18–24 years and adults aged 25 years or older. It’s important to note that this data may reflect substantial underreporting, as many cases that required immediate medical attention likely bypassed calling poison control centers and presented directly to emergency departments. Previous studies estimate over 1,000 e-cigarette explosion and burn injuries occurring annually in the U.S..

The first death from an exploding vape in the USA

According to the Washington Post, possibly the first death from an exploding vape in the United States took place in May 2018.

“In what is believed to be one of the first deaths from an e-cigarette malfunction, a 38-year-old man in Florida was killed when his vape pen exploded, sending projectiles into his head and causing a small fire in his house.

Tallmadge D’Elia was found May 5, 2018 in the burning bedroom of his family’s home in St. Petersburg, according to the Tampa Bay Times. An autopsy report released his week blamed a vape pen explosion for his death, local news outlets reported.

The cause of death was listed as “projectile wound of head” — the pen exploded into pieces, at least two of which were sent into his head, the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner said — and he suffered burns on about 80 percent of his body.

The “mod”-type pen is manufactured in the Philippines and distributed by Smok-E Mountain.

A representative from Smok-E Mountain tells us their devices do not explode, instead telling us it is likely an atomizer (the part a person inserts into their mouth) or a battery issue. The company says they’ve had problems with other companies cloning their batteries, which makes them less safe. The company is hoping to see photos of the device that was used by D’Elia.

According to a report from the U.S. Fire Administration, which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there were at least 195 incidents in which an electronic cigarette exploded or caught fire from 2009 through 2016, resulting in 133 injuries, 38 of which were severe.“

The first death linked to EVALI (vape disease) in the USA

According to the BBC at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49452256 a man died in 2022 from a disease caused by vaping.

“A patient has died after developing a severe respiratory disease due to vaping in the first such death in the US, say health officials. It comes as experts investigate a mystery lung disease across the US that is linked to use of e-cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said there were 193 “potential cases” in 22 US states. Many of the cases involve vaping THC, the main active compound in cannabis, CDC experts said. The cases were reported over the course of two months between 28 June and 20 August.

The person who died was “hospitalized with unexplained illness after reported vaping or e-cigarette use”, Dr Jennifer Layden, the chief medical officer and state epidemiologist in Illinois, said.

CDC director Robert Redfield said: “We are saddened to hear of the first death related to the outbreak of severe lung disease in those who use e-cigarette or ‘vaping’ devices.” He added: “This tragic death in Illinois reinforces the serious risks associated with e-cigarette products.”

What is the illness?

The cause of the mystery illness has not been identified, but all involve vaping in some form.

“In many cases, patients have acknowledged recent use of THC-containing product,” the CDC’s head of non-infectious diseases, Dr Ileana Arias, said.

Those affected had symptoms including coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue as well as some cases of vomiting and diarrhoea. There is no evidence of an infectious disease – such as a virus or bacteria – being responsible.

But there is much that remains a mystery.

“It isn’t clear if these cases have a common cause or if they are different diseases with similar presentations,” Dr Arias said.

There have been 22 cases in the state of Illinois, with patients ranging from 17 to 38 years old.

The 22 states affected are largely in the centre and north-east of the country, from Minnesota to North Carolina, though cases have also been reported in California, Texas, and New Mexico.

Officials have ordered laboratory tests of vaping liquid samples in a bid to identify any harmful compounds.

A “black market” is known to exist for THC-containing vape cartridges, which are sold legally through medical marijuana dispensaries in some states.

Users in online communities have warned of the dangers of unregulated fake cartridges.

Is regular vaping safe?

No cause for the mystery illness has been identified – and the link to THC products is not clear yet either.

Mitch Zeller of the US Food and Drug administration said it was important to understand that “we find ourselves in the early stages of these investigations trying to piece together the facts.”

He said the FDA was exploring whether the products were used as intended or being modified by adding something to them.

The president of the American Vaping Association, Gregory Conley, said in a statement on Thursday that he was “confident” the illnesses were being caused by devices containing cannabis or other synthetic drugs, not nicotine.

But Dr Brian King from the CDC’s office on smoking and health warned against thinking of vaping as completely safe.

“We do know that e-cigarettes do not emit a harmless aerosol,” he said.

“There’s a variety of harmful ingredients identified, including things like ultrafine particulates, heavy metals like lead and cancer causing chemicals,” he said, along with diacetyl – a flavouring used to give a “buttery” taste that has been linked to “severe respiratory illness”.

He also warned of the possibility that similar cases had been happening for a long time, but the connection between them had been missed.

“It’s possible that the reported cases could have been occurring before this investigation was even initiated,” he said.

Dr King said it was possible “we weren’t necessarily capturing them, but now there’s increased diligence in terms of the current investigation that we’re better able to”.

At least two people have previously died in the US after their e-cigarette exploded in their face.”

Are Vapes Safer Now Than They Used To Be

Lithium-ion batteries have undergone several design changes in the last 10 years that render them safer today than they used to be, however, when the batteries are struck and undergo trauma (such as by dropping a vape on the ground), they are still vulnerable to explosion and catching fire. 

Vapes are also leading to more cases of EVALI every year and other unknown health risks. So, to say that vapes are safer now than they used to be really depends on how you look at it. No matter what, it is a dangerous and destructive activity that is guaranteed to hurt your health, whether or not it explodes in your face right away or not.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.