May 20, 2022 – A study shows that over a 4-year period, 15 teenagers were injured from exploding e-cigarettes, according to surgeons who have treated young people at nine hospitals in the United States.
"It definitely was an injury we were seeing frequently," Shannon Acker, MD, an assistant professor of pediatric surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital Colorado, said in a statement.
Reporting in the Journal of Surgical Research, doctors detail injuries from e-cigarette explosions from January 2016 through December 2019. Ten teens were hospitalized, including three who were admitted to intensive care units.
"When we think about e-cigarettes, vaping, and the problems of marketing cigarettes to teenagers, it usually has to do with addiction and lung injury," said Acker, a co-author of the new study. "Whereas we, as trauma surgeons, were seeing these other traumatic injuries."
Six of the teens had facial burns, five of them lost multiple teeth, five had burns around the thighs and groin, four burned their hands, and four burned their eyes. One teen injured their radial nerve, which runs through the arm. Another cut their face, and one fractured their jaw.
Overall, six teens needed surgery, including one who needed multiple operations for a severe hand injury.
Three of the teenagers had never used e-cigarettes before the day they were hurt.
Vaping has become far more common than smoking traditional cigarettes among U.S. teens in recent years. More than 2 million of them currently use e-cigarettes, according to the FDA, including more than 11% of high school students and almost 3% of middle schoolers.
Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can impair healthy brain development in adolescents, according to the CDC. Other chemicals and flavorings in the liquids that are heated during vaping can also damage the lungs. Fires and explosions, while rare, are also a risk that's been previously documented by the FDA, the CDC, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Nationwide, there were 195 reported explosions and fires involving e-cigarettes in all ages between 2009 and 2016, according to a FEMA report. While no deaths were reported, 29% of these cases involved severe injuries.
"The shape and construction of electronic cigarettes” can make them behave like “flaming rockets when a battery fails," according to FEMA.
Vaping devices typically use a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that vaporizes the liquid nicotine solution, Acker says.
"They are not highly regulated, and the batteries may be of inferior quality and prone to explosion."