While e-cigarettes might help people get around some smoking bans and save bystanders from the hazards of secondhand smoke, the device might prove to have an unexpected danger.
A bartender working at the Buck Inn Hotel in North Yorkshire, England, was standing next to an e-cigarette plugged into an iPad to charge when it exploded right in her face.
“I was about to give somebody their change and I heard the bang. I could see the fire coming at me and I felt the heat as I ran away,” 18-year-old Laura Baty told the York Press. “I started crying hysterically and my arm was all black. My dress caught on fire as I ran away and I just didn’t know what was happening.”
The e-cigarette belonged to Stewart Paterson, a man who also worked in the bar and was trying to quit smoking.
“I put the e-cigarette on charge in my iPad charger, which I have done countless times before,” he told the newspaper. “I heard a huge bang that sounded like a firework. I turned around to see a ball of fire weaving about.”
Baty was taken into the restroom by a customer, cleaned up and calmed down. Aside from being shaken up, she was not badly injured by the blast.
Watch this footage of the incident captured by a surveillance camera:
E-cigarettes exploding isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon.
In 2012, a Florida man was left with severe burns and missing part of his tongue after the electronic smoking device exploded while it was in his mouth.
According to WMAQ-TV, there isn’t a reliable database of reported e-cigarette explosions, but an industry spokesman said they are rare.
“I’m aware of 10 failures in the last year,” Thomas Kiklas with the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association said, according to WMAQ. “When you charge them, they are 99.9 percent safe, but occasionally there will be failures.”
The issue appears to go back to the battery. A representative for the battery manufacturer of the e-cigarette involved in the incident in England told the York Press that it’s important users charge e-cigarettes on the specific charger assigned to it.
“A number of independent organizations, including the fire service, have reiterated warnings that charging lithium batteries incorrectly and failing to take necessary care of these devices can lead to catastrophic failure,” the representative said.
Alyson Down, community safety officer at North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, said that any charging device should not be left unattended.
“I used to charge my phone up overnight, but now I charge it before I fall asleep in case something like what happened at The Buck in Richmond,” Down told the York Press.
In addition to the potential of an exploding battery, a recent study found e-cigarettes can change cells’ genetic expression in a manner similar to that of tobacco products.
Avrum Spira, who researches genomics and lung cancer at Boston University, told Nature that while there are “striking similarities” between the cell changes, they are not identical and more research needs to be done on whether the changes could cause cells to behave like cancer cells. Spira said that the research is still preliminary and that they cannot say whether or not e-cigarettes can cause cancer.