The media has expressed serious concerns about the potential for e-cig fires this year. Stories about accidental fires and random e-cig explosions continue to make headlines and imply that vapers are doomed by the very product that may help them quit smoking chemically-laden, cancer-causing cigarettes. The facts, however, show that fires caused by e-cigarettes pale in comparison to those caused by other electronic devices. And when compared to traditional cigarettes, the numbers aren’t even close. Burning cigarettes cause thousands of fires each year! The headlines that state “E-Cigarettes Pose Fire Risks” are very misleading and should actually read “E-Cig Fires Are Rare… Normally Caused by HUMAN ERROR.”
The Real Cause Of Household Fires
Each year in the United States there are between 350,000 and 400,000 household fires, with nearly 25% being started by a burning cigarette. Lit tobacco products also top the list in home-fire fatalities, with 700-900 deaths every year. The latest National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) data from 2002 through 2009 reported more than 69,000 fires in which a home appliance was the cause; most incidents were attributed to ranges, followed by dryers, air conditioners, refrigerators, and dishwashers.
To make matters worse, Consumer Reports revealed that only fifty percent of appliance fires could be attributed to human error – the rest appear to be caused by appliance malfunctions. “We identified a variety of causes for these fires, including faulty refrigerator compressors and defective control boards in dishwashers,” said Dan DiClerico, senior editor at Consumer Reports.
The Truth About E-Cig Explosions & Fires
It’s true, a growing number of fires have been linked to electronic cigarettes over the past few years, but despite the scary headlines regarding e-cig fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, only 25 e-cigarette fires and explosions were reported in the United States between 2009 and 2014. Since 2012, 113 cases have been reported in the UK. Although this doesn’t encompass every incident and precautions should certainly be taken, it definitely puts things into perspective. Nearly 100,000 fires are caused by traditional cigarettes in the U.S. each year alone.
It should also be noted that in most cases, overheated batteries or incompatible chargers were the root cause of these fires. This is not a flaw inherent to electronic cigarettes; any lithium battery can overheat and cause a fire, particularly when it’s left in direct sunlight or other hot environments. And using the wrong charger is dangerous with any battery-powered item.
Here are a few recently reported incidents with e-cigarettes, and the truth behind them:
- A woman in England suffered major burns on her face when her e-cigarette exploded, BUT… her bedside oxygen was the culprit, igniting after she activated her e-cig.
- A husband and wife in AZ returned to their charred car after spending several hours at the hospital… the lithium battery was left charging outside unattended.
- A Florida man claimed an e-cigarette exploded in his mouth… court documents later revealed that he modified the device, using non-rechargeable Li-ion batteries from Radio Shack.
- In the UK, several e-cig fires led to large explosions; one man actually died. In both cases the wrong chargers were used and explosions resulted from combustible substances nearby.
In all of these cases, it was the irresponsible actions of users that caused fires and / or explosions. Of the other incidents where details are available, most took place while electronic cigarettes were being charged, while other cases involved batteries rupturing or overheating. Chargers, rather than the components themselves, were suspected to have sparked many of the reported incidents, including a large number where the incorrect charger was being used.
Safety Tips To Prevent E-Cigarette Fires
Operator error is the primary reason for most e-cigarette fires and explosions. Some of these tips may seem like common sense, but for safety’s sake, let’s go over the basics:
- Read the instructions: Although instructions aren’t always included, if they are, it’s probably a good idea to read them. Pay special attention to any special safety precautions.
- USE THE CORRECT CHARGER: As mentioned, this is one of the most common ways to cause an e-cig fire. Not only could it damage or destroy the battery, it could cause it to explode.
- Don’t use cheap, aftermarket components: Choosing incompatible or low-grade components (ie: batteries, chargers, etc.) is a sure fire way to cause problems. Avoid cheap, aftermarket products at all costs, especially if they’re not designed specifically for your device.
- Turn the device off when not in use: The most basic e-cigarettes cannot be turned off, but intermediate and advanced devices have an ON/OFF feature. An easy way to overheat an atomizer and potentially cause a problem is to tuck your device in your pocket and inadvertently hold down the firing button. Most devices have limits and overheat protection, but if you turn your e-cig off whenever it’s not in use you’re less likely to have a problem.
- Keep your battery clean and dry: Condensation and excess e-liquid commonly build up and collect on battery terminals. Whenever you remove your atomizer or refill your device, be sure to give the battery terminal a wipe with a cotton swab or rolled up piece of paper towel. Water and electricity don’t mix! And gunk will not only reduce performance, but it could be dangerous.
- Charge / store in a cool, dry place: Once again, water and electricity don’t mix. And excess heat will only increase the chance of damaging your battery. Whenever your e-cigarette is being charged or stored, be sure to keep it in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.
- Don’t leave the charger unattended: “Smart chargers” (included with every e-cig) and are supposed to safely charge your battery and turn off when complete, but that doesn’t give you the green light to leave it unattended. Whenever a battery is connected to a charger, the circuit is complete and a surge in the electrical system could destroy it or burn it up. Malfunctions can occur with any electrical device. Never leave a charging battery completely unattended. When charging is complete, be sure to remove the battery and unplug it.
- Sub-ohm and cloud chase with care: The latest trend in the vaping industry is to use unregulated, mechanical mods and sub-ohm coils to generate huge clouds of vapor. Although this certainly sounds appealing, these devices lack the internal safety protections of regulated APVs and should only be used by the most educated and experienced vaping enthusiasts. If you don’t understand basic electrical principles (ie: volts, ohms, wattage, etc.), take things slow and do your research before you jump into mechanical mods and coil building.
Every electronic device has the potential of malfunctioning, and when used incorrectly, the chances of a problem grow exponentially. The fact is, e-cigs cause very few fires when compared to traditional cigarettes and other household electronics, so use some common sense you’re unlikely to have a problem. The media uses scary headlines to create controversy, but e-cigs are no different than cell phones or laptops. Yes, the potential for fire does exist… but it’s minimal (at best) if used correctly.