Many e-cigarette users by now are aware of the risk of overheating, explosion and fire that lithium batteries pose, but they may not fully appreciate those dangers unless they experience such an event themselves, or at least see it with their own eyes.

That’s the purpose of a new video shared by the U.K. consumer protection organization Electrical Safety First. By demonstrating what happens when a lithium-ion battery inside an e-cigarette malfunctions, the organization hopes that people will take extra care when replacing and charging the batteries.

The video shows a controlled experiment in which an e-cigarette is charged to the point of overheating, which can cause the battery cell to swell. Lithium batteries that get excessively hot may malfunction if they are poorly designed or manufactured, damaged, or thrown in a bag or pocket with other metal objects.

The Electrical Safety First video shows what real-life videos have revealed and survivors of e-cigarette malfunction have often described – sparks blast out of the device for a few moments before it explodes into a ball of intensely hot fire.

E-cigarette battery malfunctions, which are often called “thermal runaways” in scientific literature, emit flames that burn at temperatures of about 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit/1,000 degrees Celsius. As the lithium battery burns, it releases highly flammable and toxic gases. Lithium battery fires can also burn for long periods of time and be extremely difficult to extinguish.

E-cigarette explosions often occur in the front pocket of a person’s pants or in or near the user’s mouth and face, usually causing extreme burns. E-cigarette explosions can also blast shrapnel, which in at least a couple of cases in the United States resulted in death.

Electrical Safety First warns e-cigarette users to avoid carrying e-cigarettes and loose lithium batteries in their pockets or bags along with coins and other metal objects. The organization also urges people to make sure the devices are turned off and locked against activation before transporting.

The organization says that similar fire risks are present when consumers use chargers that are incompatible with their particular e-cigarette.  Moreover, anyone who uses an e-cigarette should take care when tightening the screw connections to the rechargeable battery, as over-tightening can damage the battery, which in turn can create problems related to overheating, product failure, and potential injury.

The organization suggests consumers should take these other precautions:

  • do not modify your device and only use approved replacement parts
  • ensure devices are not left charging for long periods of time
  • stay informed of e-cigarette recalls that may affect you

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends U.S. consumers take these same measures, adding that e-cigarettes should never be charged with a laptop, tablet or phone. The FDA recommends that consumers only buy e-cigarettes that are equipped with safety features.

Additional sources:
IEEE Spectrum
Drug Watch 
U.S. Fire Administration

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