The Full Story Behind a Rare Vape Battery Death

Millions of Vapers, Two Fatalities in a Decade

William Brown of Fort Worth, Texas died of a stroke two days after being severely injured by his exploding mechanical mod. A mechanical or unregulated mod is a type of vaping device that does not have a circuit board to control the flow of battery power through the device. They have a core of enthusiastic fans but require a level of skill to be handled safely. The Star Telegram reports that the explosion occurred while Brown was sitting in a parked car outside of Smoke and Vape DZ in Dallas. According to his grandmother, the device exploded when he used it for the first time. In the aftermath of the explosion, Brown was spotted by employees of the vape shop crawling from the driver’s side door of the car. He eventually collapsed on the pavement near the trunk area of his grandmother's light blue Lincoln Town Car, which she had lent him to run errands. Paramedics arrived on the scene and he died two days later at John Peter Smith (JPS) Hospital. Brown had just exited the store after seeking information on how to operate a previously purchased mechanical mod. In an interview, the manager of the vape shop said they didn't carry the mech mod brought in by Brown due to safety issues. The exact make of the device which exploded has not yet been released. The type of battery, mod, coils and atomizer would seem to be pertinent information if the goal really is to protect consumers. Brown was not a smoker, but according to his grandmother he had been informed that this style of device was beneficial for asthma. It is unclear where he got this information. This is certainly not an FDA approved claim. At Vapor4Life, we have no desire to market to non-smokers. Our goal is provide the safest and most authentic cigarette alternative.

Hospital's Treatment Questioned

The fatal injuries, described as penetrating trauma, were inflicted by a piece of the device. The battery explosion appears to have driven a piece of the atomizer through his neck and it severed his left carotid artery. JPS staff determined that he suffered a stroke from the injury while still in the car and suffered bleeding on his brain. At the hospital, a fragment of the mod’s atomizer was found in his neck via X-ray. Doctors opted not to operate on Brown but instead put him in an induced coma. Brown’s grandmother, Alice Brown, has criticized this decision. “That three-piece thing went into his throat and stayed there, and that’s what (doctors) should have taken out as soon as they got to the hospital, and they decided to wait until Monday or Tuesday.”

Sloppy Media Coverage of Tragedy

Like the only previous vaping fatality in Florida, another mechanical mod incident, this tragic story will be falsely framed as a cautionary tale about vaping dangers. The device in question does not resemble what most vapers use but this does not matter. What matters is that vaping critics smell blood in the water and want to score points at the expense of the vaping industry. Anti-vapers are on a bit of a roll. What they describe as the “teen vaping epidemic”, while certainly troubling, dominates headlines far more than other high risk teenage behaviors. The Altria-Juul partnership has created PR problems for an embattled industry that is still dealing with the strict new FDA e-cig regulations. What is missing from most press coverage of this incident is context. And context is king. The mechanical mod Mr. Brown used has been mistakenly described as a vape pen and an e-cig in reports. This description brings to mind classic cartomizers, the type of ecig that crushed nicotine replacement therapy in a New England Journal of Medicine smoking cessation study. Mech mods are at best a distant relative to a the disposable e-cigs, box mods, tube mods, pod systems, cig-a-likes and the sundry devices that most people use. Unregulated mech mods are related to mainstream, regulated vaping devices in the same way that my Honda Civic is related to a monster truck. Not that there is anything wrong with a monster truck or mech mod. Quite the contrary, they have a number of useful features. It just has to be pointed out that most people aren't using either in their work-a-day routine.

Challenges and Benefits of Mech Mods

Sadly, using a mech mod proved to be a risky proposition for Brown. That said, there are too many missing details about this tragedy to draw any conclusions. The type of device he was using hasn't  been released. He was a registered electrician. How much expertise did he have? Not much is known beyond the cause of death, where William Brown died and the fact he was using an unnamed mech mod. Until the cause of the explosion is released, Brown will be painted as a novice who was wise to head to a vape store to ask questions. Mech mods pose a unique set of challenges that don’t apply to plug and play style box mods and vape pens. If you are interested in using a mechanical mod, make sure you are fully versed on ohm’s law, battery safety, and all aspects of the device. The learning curve for mech mods is steep. Mech mod users were pioneers and remain pillars of the vaping community. Before striking out on your own into the world of mech mods, take advantage of the community’s collective knowledge and always adhere to established safety principles. Unregulated mods can be used safely and bring great joy to their users. But they require an advanced level of knowledge. The primary benefit of the mech mod is how customizable they are. You have full control over the rebuildable deck configuration and coils. This is  huge feature if you are looking intense cloud chasing and the ability to tweak a perfect setup. Mech Mods are also easy to fix and maintain due to the simplicity of the design. They have plenty to recommend but are not meant for beginners.

Vaping Has an Outstanding Safety Record

The overwhelming majority of vaping devices are chip regulated and have redundant safety features. The underlying soundness of industry standard vaping designs was demonstrated last month, when the eGO AIO obtained UL certification. Expect more devices to take advantage of this newly minted safety standard. One thing you should never do is take battery safety for granted, especially if you have a mod with swappable batteries. 18650 battery safety procedures should always be followed. Most e-cig accidents occur because of damaged batteries. Check out the battery safety infographic at the end of this article for additional information.

Vaping Prevents House Fires

No vaping explosion coverage is complete without a safety comparison between e-cigs and combustible cigarettes. The London Fire Brigade has found that vaping prevents house fires. In the US, there are on average 570 deaths annually that result from fires caused by smoking in the home. Between January 2009 and December 2016, there have been 195 vape battery incidents. A total of 2 people have now died and 38 suffered severe injuries. This compelling data convinced the London Fire Brigade to step-up support vaping as an alternative to smoking.