Man smoking e-cigaretteFirst introduced in 2003, e-cigarettes became widely available in the United States in 2007. Also known as vaping pens (among others), e-cigarettes require smokers to pour oils—typically nicotine-based—into the tank of the device, which vaporizes them for smoking. Users press a button and the built-in battery-powered heating system vaporizes the liquid (into a vapor, of course) at a temperature of about 400 degrees.  When burned at that temperature (and at that rate), the oils do not combust, but do quickly form a vapor, which you can then inhale.

While the popularity of these devices suggest they are better or safer or “healthier” than traditional cigarettes, it is important to remember they are electronic, after all.  This should be easy to do, now, since the lithium-ion batteries that power e-cigarettes have been somewhat commonly found to explode, even when not in use. Indeed, some users have learned this hard way, with vape pens exploding in their pockets, even with enough force to knock out their teeth or even crack some vertebrae.

Now, American Vaping Association president, Gregory Conley, comments, “When used and charged properly, those lithium-ion batteries pose no more of a fire risk than other products that use other similar batteries,” making sure to also add, “It is a remote risk that is almost entirely avoidable.”

Conley does admit that he worries there are greatly exaggerated fears over the potential for fires, an exaggeration which could cause some people to avoid the product altogether. Critics, of course, argue that the threat is very real and that consumers should be cautious.

For example, Wolfgang Mueller is a lawyer from Farmington Hills who has sued e-cigarette companies on behalf of three individual plaintiffs.  He attests, “Even if it’s somewhat rare, these things are so dangerous that when it happens, these are horrific injuries.”

Mueller actually worked as a mechanical engineer long before studying the law and he says that batteries can easily short-circuit internally as a result of poor manufacturing; or that they can short-circuit externally by coming into contact with various other things like metal you might have in your pocket (jewelry, keys, coins, etc).

He goes on to say, “That’s what makes it so important for these retailers and manufacturers to warn the consumer.”

Conley, of course, reminds, “You have a product that has literally helped 2.5 million Americans quit the deadliest habit on the planet.”  

Still, is the benefit worth that risk?

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