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E-cigarettes and the Risk of Fire

August 19, 2014


The first time you saw someone walking down the street smoking a glass tube with an electric blue or red light on it, you were probably taken aback. Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigs) are surrounded by controversy, but whatever your opinions on cigarettes and smoking, they have revolutionized an industry. Initially, it seemed, from a fire safety standpoint, if people don’t have burning objects in their hands, much of the fire loss associated with smoking can’t happen. (An estimated 90% of forest fires are man-made, with discarded cigarettes being one of the major causes, and over 1,000 home fire deaths every year are attributed to cigarettes.) Are e-cigs any more fire-safe than the traditional cigarette, and what exactly are they?

E-cigs are battery operated devices that allow the user to inhale nicotine via a vaporized nicotine substance (sometimes called “juice”). Not all e-cigs have nicotine in their juice and it’s up to an individual user if they want the juice to contain the nicotine.  A sensor placed inside of the e-cigarette senses when the user is inhaling and a microprocessor heats and vaporizes the juice thus allowing the smoker to inhale the vapor.  Because they’re battery-powered they need to be charged and can break. Rather than exhaling smoke, e-cig smokers exhale a vapor which provides the taste and sensation of smoking.

E-cigs are relatively new, so obtaining fire hazard numbers is difficult at this point. A quick google search leads to an article about one exploding in the UK, and another sparking a home fire in Oklahoma. But it appears the e-cigs themselves are not so much the issue as the lithium batteries contained within and the way in which they’re charged.

Thus far it would appear the numbers of injuries or deaths from the fire aspect of e-cigs is significantly less than those of traditional smokes. But if you’re an e-cig smoker, or contemplating switching to them, what safety precautions should you take?

  • Read the instructions! Know how your e-cig works, and don’t press the button to activate the cigarette for any longer than you need to. This can cause the atomizer (that makes the vapor) overheat.
  • Many electronic cigarettes are made to plug into walls and not vehicles.
  • Charge on a clutter-free, non-combustible surface.
  • Unplug the electronic cigarette once it’s fully charged. Because voltage can fluctuate, an over-charged device can actually result in parts of the e-cig blowing up.
  • Don’t leave your device unattended while it’s charging.
  • Look into getting a fireproof safety bag to use when you’re charging your e-cig battery.
  • Beware of the juice around small children and pets. If a small child or pet eats a traditional cigarette they’ll probably have a stomach ache, but recuperate quickly. E-cigs use a concentrated nicotine juice which can be fatal to pets and make children extremely ill. In fact, the number of animals dying from nicotine overdose has exploded since e-cigs have become more popular.

While e-cigarettes are not actively burning like traditional cigarettes they do pose their own inherent risks. Take care and be fire safe!

The intent of this article is to discuss the possible fire safety of electronic cigarettes. WSRB makes no comment on the health, use, or hazards of these devices nor does WSRB make any comparison to the health of traditional cigarettes or smoking.

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