There was a time when e-cigarette explosions and fires ruled the news. In fact, during the period just before anti-vaping groups settled on JUUL and the youth vaping epidemic as their primary focus, vaping explosions were featured almost daily in news stories. They remained a regular feature until they were overshadowed by the 2019 outbreak of black market THC vaping-related lung injuries.
To those whose vaping knowledge is based solely on alarming news stories, e-cigarette thermal events like fires and explosions may seem like common occurrences, but they are actually very rare. They happen when a battery overheats and the chemicals and gasses escape the battery rapidly.
Most people are unaware that the vast majority of popular vape mods, pens, and pods have circuitry to regulate the output power and protect users from dangerous battery malfunctions. Among commercial vape devices, only unregulated mechanical mods pose a serious risk for accidents to inexperienced users.
Security camera footage from vape battery accidents can be confusing for people with limited knowledge of vaping products. The viewer sees a huge flash and the vaper’s clothes catching on fire, and assumes a vaping device has spontaneously exploded. It’s rare that an expert is interviewed to explain what actually happened.
In reality, most vaping electrical accidents are actually spare battery accidents—not equipment failures—and they’re usually caused by user error. Generally speaking, vapers who follow basic principles of battery safety are at low risk for e-cigarette fires or explosions.
Aside from very rare defective batteries, most vaping battery thermal events and fires are caused by a few specific issues, all of which are easily avoidable. Because vaping skeptics want to believe the worst about vaping—and nothing makes that easier than seeing a vaper with their pants literally on fire—they dismiss the facts about battery accidents as the convenient excuses of vaping evangelists.
What causes vaping explosions and fires?
The most common causes of vaping battery accidents can be grouped together as user error. In fact, most “e-cigarette explosions” don’t even involve an e-cig.
Loose batteries carried in pockets or purses
A large majority of “vaping explosions” are in reality caused by loose batteries carried in pants pockets, not by vaping devices at all. FDA Center for Tobacco Products researchers found that 77.3 percent of burns caused by vaping accidents were to the upper leg and lower trunk—the location of the hip pocket.
When you press the fire button on a vape device, it connects the circuit between the battery’s positive and negative poles, and power flows to the device. That’s how all modern portable electronic devices—like cell phones and electric toothbrushes—are powered, and like those products, regulated vaping devices have redundant safety circuitry that prevents batteries from overheating or exploding if they malfunction.