VAPE EXPLOSIONS: WHAT CAUSES FIRES AND OTHER ACCIDENTS?
E-Cigarettes use lithium-ion batteries which, when damaged, can cause problems. Extreme heat or a drop can lead to ‘thermal runaway’ which is when the battery temperature rises very quickly and can lead to a battery explosion. Poorly designed batteries may expand as they charge, causing the electrodes within to bend, potentially short circuiting, causing an explosion. Carrying your vape or loose batteries in a pocket with metal objects could also cause a short-circuit.
Vaping has become a normal part of modern life, as a much safer alternative to smoking and as a stop-smoking tool. As with any technology, there tends to be a few teething problems while the tech is pushed to the limits in terms of how they are used - both within and without the instructions of the manufacturers. Vaping technology is also varied, with small e-cigarette units that are largely self-contained, to the box mods that can be modified in a variety of ways. Most of these use lithium-ion batteries which are another great piece of technology, but we have seen incidents of malfunctions with these batteries causing explosions, fires and serious harm.
Here in the UK, we have seen a few incidents ranging from a vape pen exploding in a pocket resulting in 3rd degree burns, to Euston Station on the London Underground being evacuated because an e-cigarette exploded. Naturally, when stories like this make the headlines, it generates a skewed perspective on e-cigarettes for the public, and the assumption that the devices are unsafe in their normal state of being. So, when it comes to vapes and e-cigs - what causes fires and other accidents?
HOW DOES AN E-CIGARETTE WORK?
Electronic cigarettes function by using a battery to heat up the e-liquid in your refill or tank into an aerosol (often called ‘vapour’ but this is technically incorrect), which is then inhaled by the user. Different devices use different size batteries - e-cigarettes are relatively small in comparison to the batteries used in the box mods - and some devices use replaceable batteries where others have the battery contained in the unit and are not removable. The charging method therefore depends on the type of unit you have - a unit with removable batteries should not be charged via USB, the batteries should be removed and charged or replaced as necessary. Only vape devices designed to be charged via USB should be done so, even then you should be using the charger provided rather than any USB charger you have at home.
HOW DO VAPE BATTERY EXPLOSIONS OCCUR?
THE E-CIGARETTE BATTERY
Why does a vape battery short-circuit? How does it happen? Sometimes it is a matter of poor design - lithium batteries can expand fractionally as they charge and this can cause the electrodes to bend, leading to a short circuit. This can also be caused by physical damage, like dropping the device too hard or too many times. Other physical damage that results in a piercing of the battery exterior can lead to the electrolyte inside drying out, which makes it dangerous to charge as it is likely to catch fire.
Extreme heat is highly likely to cause a lithium ion battery to explode, with batteries left too close to a heat source, overcharged or caught in a fire known to do so. Despite lithium batteries having protections built in to prevent overcharging, there have been instances of these protections failing, causing phones that were left on charge overnight to explode. Further to this, a bad charger can cause issues with your battery, if it’s poorly made or designed for use with another device.
Old loose batteries, if they are well made, should still function as intended as time wears on. Over time, the battery may have been subjected to wear and tear, increasing the likelihood of failure.
Using low resistance coils with your device increases the chances of premature battery failure. This is because the low resistance allows the coil to heat up more aggressively. Other user related errors include keeping the battery or vape unit in your pocket or bag, and a key or coin contacting the ‘wrong’ places on the unit, leading to a short circuit.
HOW COMMON ARE VAPE OR VAPE BATTERY EXPLOSIONS?
Headlines can make the dangers of a given problem seem more present and closer to home, but vape explosions are still rare. As vaping devices have progressed technologically, and vaping has become generally more prevalent, we are seeing more cases of e cigarette battery issues; the US fire administration recorded 195 explosions and fires, where e-cigarettes were involved, between Jan 2009 and Dec 31st 2016.
Jason Artman and staff of ecigone.com have compiled a list of all the media reported e-cigarette explosions since 2009 up to Feb 2019(4) - and while this may be an under-representation of the true number of vape explosions, the fact the list contains three hundred and sixteen examples when the number of vapers worldwide was an estimated 41 million in 2018 shows that vape explosions are still very uncommon. Of the three hundred and sixteen explosions, 67 involved spare batteries for removable battery mods, 92 occurred while charging, and 75 happened during storage, transport or unknown circumstances. Knowing these figures gives us a good indication of what steps we can take to minimise the chances of your device or batteries exploding.
HOW TO PREVENT VAPE EXPLOSIONS?
Practicing vape battery safety is likely to be the biggest thing you can do to prevent any dangerous mishaps with your vape. This means following the manufacturers charging instructions, and never leaving your device unattended whilst charging - your charging set up may be a ticking time bomb: using a charging adaptor not provided by the manufacturer may mean the incorrect current is going into the battery. This could lead to overheating as e-cigarette batteries aren’t necessarily up to the ‘fast-charging’ that some devices do facilitate.
With the variety of USB power delivery standards, users need to be careful as the current provided from the different types of USB port can vary significantly, and this may result in overcharging your battery - so avoid doing this at all costs! If in doubt, contact the manufacturer for more information if a charging adaptor was not provided.
Most vape devices are not designed to be used whilst charging. The current provided to the coil from the battery can be larger than the current being put into the battery from the charger, this can stress the battery. Charging and using the unit at the same time means it will be receiving heat from two different sources: the charger and the coil. As mentioned earlier, heating the battery can lead to expansion of the battery which in turn can short circuit, potentially causing an explosion.
As reported by ecigone.com, 75 e-cig explosions happened during travel, storage or for unknown reasons. There is not much we can do about the unknown factors, however we can prepare our storage and containment for travel.
Make sure to store your vape
away from extreme temperatures, don’t leave it in direct sunlight or in your car at night.
When charging, do so on a solid surface, away from flammable objects.
When travelling, make sure that loose batteries are stored in a container without any objects that could cause a short circuit. Keeping a vape battery in a pocket with coins or keys is a big no!
Check your batteries regularly for any signs of distress - if the wrap that protects the battery is damaged it means the negative terminal of the battery is no longer insulated properly. Replace damaged batteries or batteries with visible signs of distress.
The vape device you choose can also have a large impact on the risk the device presents. Mechanical mods, for example, have little or no protection, so unless you are experienced and know what you are doing (regularly checking the parts of the device) it might be best to avoid mechanical mods altogether.
Be sure to pay that little bit extra for your batteries - whether using mechanical mods or simpler devices, buying counterfeit batteries could increase the risk of explosions. Counterfeit batteries can be avoided if you buy from a reputable vendor - if there is residue on the battery out of the box and/or looks poorly made, think twice about using it!
HOW DO YOU SELECT A GOOD VAPE DEVICE AND KIT?
Selecting a vape device of high quality will reduce the chances of any issues as the components used are more likely to be of a good standard, and have decent safety features. The style of the unit will also factor in as the bigger box mod style units appear to be the culprit in a lot of these explosive events.
There are lots of factors to consider when choosing a vape starter kit, so try to narrow down what experience you are searching for (throat hit, little vapour versus less of a throat hit and more vapour) to tell you the style of device that would suit you best.
When you have established the experience you are after, you can work out whether you want to invest time and effort maintaining the device, or whether you want something quick and easy. This will push you toward a particular type of vape. Now you can look at the brands and, as usual, a little research goes a long way. Spend some time checking reviews on brands and their products. Investigating how long a company has been in operation is another great way of seeing if their products stand up to the offerings of competitors in the market. If you need more guidance, check out our blog article on *choosing the right starter kit*.
VAPE EXPLOSIONS: WHAT CAUSES FIRES AND OTHER ACCIDENTS CONCLUSION
The media do create a bit of a problem when reporting on the negative events in the vaping industry, simply because the term ‘e-cigarette’ is used as an umbrella for all the devices that are available on the vaping market, as well as being a subset of these devices. Therefore the headlines provided by the tabloids are most unhelpful, and likely contribute to the ignorance regarding e-cigarettes, their benefits and the actual pitfalls. When these stories come out of places like America, people are unaware of the lack of regulation in many of these places, and so incorrectly assume things are the same here in the UK.
Whilst the box mods appear to be the most susceptible to faults, the nature of lithium ion batteries is what presents the danger from e-cigarettes and vape devices. Add to that a little bit of human nature - those throw-away ‘it’ll be fine’ comments - and there is potential for disaster. Being aware of the dangers and treating your device with the proper respect, following battery safety instructions, is going to make that small chance of accident even smaller.