The explosion of the battery The replacement for an electronic cigarette on Tuesday caused a second-degree burns to a 43-year-old man at the Chamartin station in Madrid. Jose, who does not want to give his last name, was treated at the hospital in La Paz for injuries to his right hand and thigh. "I was making the transfer from Atocha to Chamartín, and when we sat down to eat, I noticed an explosion in the right pocket of my trousers and it started to burn, and when I reached in to take out the battery, I burned it," says the man.
"I started vaping three years ago to try to stop smoking, and I always carry two batteries: one in the cigarette and another spare one, charged." It was the latter that exploded without the cause being determined. "The police came quickly, because they had heard the explosion," says Jose.
As it is not a sanitary device, the Ministry of Health, Consumption and Social Welfare does not have a registry with this type of incident. Jose states that in the health center they told him that they did not miss his case, because they had attended other similar ones; also a boy who exploited the battery of the mobile. "That is what terrifies more," says the man.
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Although there is no official registry in Spain -the Ministry of Health does not have it, nor the main medical associations for the prevention of smoking, nor the associations of vapers- the case is not a novelty. In the United States, where there are more than 10 million vapeadores, according to the latest data, the Agency for Food and Drugs (FDA) has a series of recommendations to prevent this from happening. "Although they are not common, these explosions are dangerous, but the exact causes of these incidents are still unclear, but some evidence suggests that problems related to batteries can cause explosions," he says. One of them is not to keep the charged battery where there are mobiles or coins. Jose admits that in the pocket where he had the pile he was carrying small change.
In the United States, there were about 100 such incidents in 2016, according to Felicia Williams, burn specialist at the University of North Carolina. This represents around one case per 100,000 vapeadores. In Spain, the survey of drug use in adults (aged 15 to 64 years) of the Ministry of Health estimated that 1.5% had vaped in the last month. That would throw a total of about 495,000 people. If the rate of explosions were maintained, this would mean that each year there would be about five cases like Jose's.
But that is just an extrapolation. The doctor Carmen Escrig, of the European Initiative for a Free Vapping (EIFV in English), affirms that "in Spain there is no event of this kind", unless she "knows or has transcended". "The cases of explosion of electronic cigarettes are not different from the explosions of mobile phones or drones.Any device that carries a lithium battery is susceptible to explosion when an abusive or incorrect handling of the battery is made," he adds. And he considers that Jose's case "is, therefore, anecdotal and usually due to incorrect handling, it could also be due to a defective product, but the probability is minimal".
Regina Dalmau, president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Smoking, states that there are "several published cases of facial burns, ocular, in the hands … etcetera". And it refers to the Pubmed website, which collects all the relevant scientific articles. In this case, when looking for references to electronic cigarette and explosion, 31 entries come out.
But this is not the only or the most frequent health complication related to the operation of electronic cigarettes (and without going into the possible risk of vaping). In United States, the FDA has collected 8,269 cases of children intoxicated by having drunk the refills of electronic cigarettes between January 2012 and April 2017. These usually contain nicotine, which is a potent poison if it is at high concentrations. Again, there is no Spanish data.