A group of researchers led by Steven Kahn, M.D., chief of burn surgery at MUSC, conducted a study reporting injuries sustained when vapers used their devices in the vicinity of supplemental oxygen, causing ignition.
“My advice is to charge devices in a different room, and not to vape while oxygen is being used. There are also non-combustible products that could be used if someone is on long-term oxygen, such as nicotine replacement therapy, or nicotine pouches.”Louise Ross, Chair, New Nicotine Alliance
While smokers have long been warned about the possible dangers of smoking in the presence of supplemental oxygen, given that vapes are relatively new products, less people are aware about the dangers of vaping when in the vicinity of oxygen. In a study published in the journal of Burn Care & Research, Kahn and his fellow study authors reviewed National Burn Repository (NBR) data for 2013-2016, as well as articles in the lay press.
They in fact found eight incidents, from 60,000 NBR entries, reporting ignitions and burns/injuries from people vaping in the presence of supplemental oxygen, and while all patients survived the reported events, two patients sustained full-thickness burns, while three had to be intubated. The researchers found that even when there were no malfunctions with the devices, there were a couple of instances where vapes ignited in the presence of supplemental oxygen leading to fire, explosions and/or burns. To this effect, Kahn and his team concluded that vapers should be warned about these risks.
The study explained that the majority of such incidents associated with vapes occur due to what is called thermal runaway, which is when the battery overheats and explodes. This may be caused by a number of factors, including: exposure to heat, overcharging, puncture and/or inferior quality products. However, the devices also pose a risk due to containing a heating coil operated at temperatures of 300 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, and the combination of the high heat source and a high flow of oxygen can cause ignition even without thermal runaway.
Khan called on healthcare professionals to raise awareness among their patients. He highlighted that for instance, in the case of end-stage COPD patients who are on oxygen and have switched to vapes in order to quit smoking, the danger is obvious.
Tips on how such incidents can be avoided
On discussing the study with UK Charity New Nicotine Alliance (NNA), Vaping Post asked whether they had any guidance to share, related to these findings. “This is an area that is often asked about by healthcare workers, especially those in respiratory care. It’s not particularly well studied, but what we have to remember is that smoking is the greater risk, when home oxygen is used,” replied NNA Chair Louise Ross.
“My advice is to charge devices in a different room, and not to vape while oxygen is being used. There are also non-combustible products that could be used if someone is on long-term oxygen, such as nicotine replacement therapy, or nicotine pouches,” she added.
Points to keep in mind about vape batteries
In other news, following two house fires due to vapes which took place in the span of a week last year, a UK Fire and Rescue Service released warnings related to battery safety. A spokesperson said that the devices can sometimes catch fire when they are left to charge adding that these batteries can at times fail whilst charging. He explained that vapes are sold with either single-use batteries or lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. These batteries can fail whilst charging, sometimes with explosive force.
To this effect he added, consumers should ensure they are purchasing quality products. Yet, even when their products seem reliable, other precautions should be taken. “Our advice for e-cigarettes is the same as for many smaller electrical appliances such as mobile phones and laptops – don’t be tempted to buy cheap unbranded chargers, don’t leave them to charge whilst you are out of the house or asleep, and keep them well away from flammable materials.”
18650 battery cells are problematic
In 2020, the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) together with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), launched a campaign in the UK with the aim of promoting battery safety. Similarly, they warned against the same batteries, saying that most vapes and e-cigarettes are powered by 18650-style batteries, which are slightly larger than the common AA batteries. Since these can vary in chemistries and voltages, insists the campaign, vapers should only use batteries recommended by the manufacturer.
While In 2021, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urged vapers to stop buying or using individual 18650 battery cells, as they are more likely to cause explosions and fires than other battery types. “[T]hese battery cells may have exposed metal positive and negative terminals that can short-circuit when they come into contact with metal objects, such as keys or loose change in a pocket,” wrote the agency. “Once shorted, loose cells can overheat and experience thermal runaway, igniting the cell’s internal materials and forcibly expelling burning contents, resulting in fires, explosions, serious injuries and even death.”