You’ve seen it bandied about in a headline on the news or as a video on YouTube: vaporizer explosions, usually paired with a key phrase akin to “what are the chances of your vaporizer exploding?” While we definitively know that e-cigarettes and vapes are not a healthy alternative to smoking, are the odds of your personal vaporizer exploding noteworthy enough to cause concern and an extra amount of caution among users?
(Note: while we know that e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers ultimately have two very different functions—the former for electronic tobacco use, and the latter for cannabis—both are considered personal vaporizers, otherwise known as PVs, and both are comprised of the same type of hardware. We’ll be using the terms interchangeably here.)
How Often Do Vaporizer Explosions Occur?
When it comes to the frequency of vaporizer and/or e-cigarette explosions, there’s a chasmic disparity between the official statistics and how such explosions are covered by the media. In short: it’s hard to know exactly which (or who) to trust.
In a study released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in October 2014,”twenty-five separate incidents of explosion and fire involving an e-cigarette were reported in the United States media between 2009 and August 2014″ with “nine injuries and no deaths … associated with these 25 incidents.” If we’re going by this statistic, one could argue that roughly five e-cig explosions occurred every year between the year span of the study.
Numbers don’t lie, but in this case, they don’t necessarily paint the whole picture. While the stats seem to indicate an exceedingly low rate of vape and/or e-cigarette explosions per year, the incidents counted include only those reported by the media at large—ergo, there’s a possibility that the data pool is exceedingly small and not reflective of a larger amount of PV explosions that, in reality, do occur.
The mortality rate among victims and/or survivors of vape explosions is also up for debate. If we’re going by the FEMA report, nine injuries out of the 25 resulted in serious injuries and no fatalities. But then again, the study only covers injuries and fatalities directly caused by these explosions. So what’s an example a vaporizer exploding and causing an indirect death?
Reviewing the Stats
Here’s a hypothetical example: a man smokes a vape on the top of a ladder. The PV explodes in his hands, causing severe burns. The happenstance understandably startles the man, who loses his balance and topples to the ground below, which causes him to break his neck and die shortly after. Technically, it’s the fall that kills him, not the explosion. See what we mean?
So what are the chances of your vaporizer exploding and causing you bodily harm? While as of now we can point to the misrepresentation and/or inaccuracy of data on vape explosions, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s some sort of coverup going on. Even with a healthy dose of skepticism, the rate still seems to be fairly low, and an increase in the number of incidents, whether recorded or not, could just have to do with an uptick in PV sales over the past few years. And the devices that tend to burst into flames are almost always larger and/or chargeable desktop models, so saying that all e-cigs are supremely dangerous might be a bit of hyperbole.
So, what are the chances of your vaporizer exploding? Even when padding FEMA’s report, still relatively low. However, the question remains: why do PV explosions happen in the first place. The short answer: science and faulty wiring.
What Causes Vaporizer Explosions?
No, there’s no international conspiracy afoot here. Rather, the culprit behind vaporizer explosions is the ever-temperamental Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery, which despite its might as a power source is incredibly volatile in its constitution—and in turn, can be very, very dangerous.
According to a Tech Times article on the FEMA report:
“the majority of the incidents happened while the e-cig’s Lithium-ion battery was charging — and most likely charging improperly…the shape and construction of e-cigarettes can make them more likely than other products with lithium-ion batteries to behave like ‘flaming rockets’ when a battery fails,’ stated the report, which then went on to caution e-cigarette smokers that li-ion batteries should only be charged in strict accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, and unapproved power sources were intrinsic to significantly upping the chance of a fire and/or explosion.”
It should also be noted that before the FEMA report came out, PVs were finally standardized—sort of. As a 2014 article on Mother Jones noted:
“On Thursday (April 24, 2014), the FDA proposed regulating e-cigarettes, banning the sale of the devices to Americans under 18 and requiring makers of e-cigarettes to to disclose their ingredients to the agency. But a spokesperson for the FDA tells Mother Jones that the proposed rule does not cover ‘accessories of proposed deemed tobacco products,’ which includes batteries and chargers that have been blamed for e-cigarette explosions. The FDA is still seeking comment on whether it might include these products under its regulatory umbrella.”
Caveats when it comes to what are the chances of your vaporizer exploding, amirite?
Final Hit: What Are the Chances of Your Vaporizer Exploding?
So, what are the chances of your favorite vape going the way of Three Mile Island? The answer: not entirely almost nonexistent, but pretty damn close. While the data compiled by FEMA is somewhat lacking, it’s important to note that media coverage on e-cig explosions aren’t immune to exaggeration. If you’re still apprehensive about the risks, then stick to smaller vape models—or just go old school and smoke the traditional way. Either way, happy toking.