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In a Heartbeat

In a heartbeat: Electronic cigarette use among young people

| Tuesday, March 15, 2016, 10:08 a.m.
Dr. Ariel Aballay, medical director of Allegheny Health Network’s West Penn Burn Center
Dr. Ariel Aballay, medical director of Allegheny Health Network’s West Penn Burn Center
Steven M. Albert and Richard Garland
University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health
Steven M. Albert and Richard Garland University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

The issue

Electronic cigarette use among young people has surpassed traditional cigarette use, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increased popularity comes with risks, because their batteries have been known to explode, according to Dr. Ariel Aballay, medical director of Allegheny Health Network's West Penn Burn Center. Aballay answers questions about e-cigarettes.

Are e-cigarettes a burn hazard?

In recent months, the West Penn Burn Center has treated two patients for burns caused by e-cigarettes. Both young men had the battery or cigarette in their pockets. One young man had second and third degree burns in his leg and groin area after a spare lithium battery used in the cigarette exploded. The change he was carrying in his pocket may have caused the ignition of his clothes when it came in contact with the spare battery. By the time he realized something went wrong, his clothes were on fire.

The second young man had an e-cigarette in his pocket that somehow caught fire and burned a hole through his pants. He had small burns on his index finger and right thigh.

We have seen news of burns from e-cigarettes from around the world. These types of burns are still rare, but the public needs to be aware of the dangers. A burn can be a devastating injury.

What causes the cigarettes to explode?

The lithium batteries used in the cigarettes are widely used in electronics today, and they are generally very safe. However, lithium batteries contain flammable or combustible liquids. When the battery overheats, it can explode. Some of these explosions happen while the battery is being charged.

How can people who use e-cigarettes stay safe?

Follow the manufacturer's exact specifications when charging the battery. Different USB ports have different currents and voltages, so it is not safe to charge the battery using the USB port on your computer or in your car. Don't overcharge the battery — never let it charge overnight. Never use a battery that feels hot or appears unusual. Use a protective case if you are carrying batteries or cigarettes around with you.

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