In April, a 20-year-old woman from Arizona suffered severe burn injuries. Driving her pickup at the time, the accident caused her to run into a tree, resulting in broken legs and pelvis. An officer at the scene said that when he opened the door to the cab, “the whole inside...was on fire.”
Last month, a 32-year-old woman in England wound up with third degree burns on her legs when the battery of her e-cigarette blew up as she was driving at high speed. Afterward, she said, “I thought I was going to die.” Another home in that country caught on fire when an e-cigarette exploded, spreading the vape liquid all over the floor.
The website EcigGone.com reports 23 e-cigarette explosions in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. during the first four months of 2017 alone. The website currently lists a total of 243 such incidents, 158 of which resulted in injuries – and indicates that such accidents are under-reported.
Despite these reports, as well as increasing health concerns associated with e-cigarettes, the devices are growing in popularity, particularly among young people. A local FOX affiliate in upstate New York reports that e-cigarette usage is up among young people. Last year, one in five high school students in the Empire State reported using e-cigarettes – a 100% increase over 2014.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Health reports a similar doubling in e-cigarette usage among high school juniors. The state health commissioner said, “After reaching historic lows in youth cigarette use, it is troubling to note a resurgence of youth nicotine use under a new guise.” He adds that parents and health care providers need to educate themselves and their children on the dangers to their health. “It's more harmful than many people think,” he warns.
Part of what is driving the increase in popularity of e-cigarettes is the perception that they are a “healthier” alternative to combustible cigarettes. However, aggressive marketing plays a role, as well as the availability of exotic flavorings – particularly candy and fruit flavors – that appeal to teens. There is also the desire of adolescents to experiment with new things – and of course, the “coolness” factor and peer pressure plays into the equation.
An article in the British Medical Journal last fall recommended that lawmakers should place more restrictions on advertising and marketing, particularly in situations where young people are more likely to see it. While the federal government has yet to take any meaningful action on this front, lawmakers at the state and city levels are attempting to move forward on legislation to rein in the use of e-cigarettes.
For example, this month, the Rhode Island legislature passed a bill that would include e-cigarettes to the state's ban on indoor smoking. However, such efforts are running into resistance. On Capitol Hill, GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter of California has introduced legislation that would exempt e-cigarettes and vape products from tobacco regulation, trusting the industry to set its own standards. In San Leandro, California, an effort to curtail the sale of flavored tobacco products was rejected by the city council, sending it back to a rules committee.
Meanwhile, the medical community continues to sound alarms, while stories about e-cigarette explosions and resultant injuries keep coming. The sides in this battle have been drawn, and they are the usual ones: those concerned about public health against the moneyed interests who profit from a dangerous product.