Can Vaping Prevent House Fires?

Misleading Media Coverage of Vape Battery Accidents

When a vape battery explodes you can be sure of a few things. The first is that there will be sensationalistic coverage. Next you will find critics of vaping capitalizing on the incident to “prove” e-cigs are dangerous. The cherry on top of this sundae of unbalanced reporting: stock images and footage of cig-a-likes that do not resemble the device in question. Rather than focusing on how dishonest and inaccurate it is to portray exploding vape pens as a common event, especially when the coverage impugns the safety reputation of device types that were not involved, we will instead examine how vaping stacks up to cigarettes in terms of acute physical risk.

Vaping Can Reduce the Number of House Fires

Once again, the UK has proven to be light years ahead of the US when it comes to harm reduction. In the case of the London Fire Brigade, the harm they are hoping to reduce is fires. Their figures showed that smokers were 266 times more likely to suffer a house fire than vapers. In a study released as a part of Public Health England’s Stoptober campaign, which encourages people to stop lighting up for 28 days, the London Fire Brigade reported 5950 smoking related fires in London during the first ten months of 2018. These fires resulted in 68 deaths and 698 hospitalizations. Chris O’Connor, the fire brigade’s head of community safety said,
“Vaping is a much safer alternative. Hundreds of people are injured in smoking related fires each year but we’ve not had any reports of injuries or deaths caused by e-cigarettes.”
He encouraged vapers to use the correct chargers, monitor batteries for damage, to avoid charging batteries when you are out of the house and to refrain from charging batteries overnight. For more common sense pointers, check out our feature on 18650 battery safety or our Vape Battery Safety Infographic at the bottom of this article.  A few simple steps can almost entirely remove the danger of battery explosion. The FDA also created a series of images that illustrate the best practices for handling lithium ion batteries.

Smoking Material Fires

The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) reported that in there were 90,000 smoking material fires in the US during 2011. Smoking material fires are caused overwhelmingly by cigarettes, although cigars and other smoking devices are also included in the count. This number was largely unchanged from the prior year. The sum total of smoking material fires: 540 deaths, 1640 injuries and $621 million in direct property damage. In 2014, the number of deaths had edged up to 570 and the average number of deaths per year between 2003 and 2014 was 625. To put it another way, the number of home cigarette fire deaths in a typical year is three times greater than the total number of exploding vape battery incidents between 2009 and 2016. According to the US Fire Administration report, there were 195 vape battery incidents in the 8 years spanning January 2009 to December 2016. A total of 38 people suffered injuries and 62 percent of the explosions occurred when the device was in use or in a pocket. Most of these explosions involved mechanical (mech) mods and not the electronically regulated devices that the vast majority of vapers use. Between 2010 and 2014, US fire departments responded to approximately 5630 house fires per year where upholstered furniture was the source of the ignition. An average of 440 people were killed per year. Fully half of these deaths were attributed to fires started by smoking.  This trend is one reason the cigarette industry has switched to “fire safe” designs.

How Safe Are Fire Safe Cigarettes?

Smokers and former smokers may recall when the transition was made to “fire safe” cigarettes during the first decade of this century. Self-extinguishing cigarettes are engineered to reduce fires on mattresses, sofas and other upholstered surfaces. The most common design relies on thin strips of less porous paper that serve as speed bumps within the cigarette. When the burning tip hits the speed bump, it will extinguish unless the user is still actively dragging air through the cigarette to keep it lit.  Gone are the days when ashtrays are filled with elongated ash tubes from neglected cigarettes, although sky high cigarette taxes probably reduce tobacco wastage as well. Self-extinguishing cigarettes were not always well-received by smokers, but as of 2012 all 50 states have some form of a fire safe cigarette law on the books. Unfortunately, it is unclear whether this design has had any measurable impact on cigarette fire safety. They have been engineered to pass a controlled test 75 percent of the time. The test involves placing the cigarette on a flammable surface.  In real world situations, a fire safe cigarette can ignite a sofa just as easily as the Marlboro man’s late 1990s-era square. The British Medical Journal study found, “No statistically significant effects on all-cause fire mortality, residential fire mortality or cigarette-caused fire rates. The estimates for cigarette-caused fire deaths were significant under some specifications, but were not robust to the inclusion of state-specific trends or comparisons to effects on other cause-determined fires.” In defense of the fire safe designs, a study in the International Journal of Wildfire found a 23 percent reduction in wildfires started by cigarettes as an unintended benefit of the design. By 2011, smoking related wildfires were at only 10 percent of their 1980 level. Even with this reduction, the environmental impact of smoking is severe and should be considered when weighing the benefits of vaping.

Smoking Safety

Vapor4Life caters to former smokers. Our products are an authentic alternative to conventional cigarettes, but we realize that some of our readers and customers continue to smoke. For this reason we have provided a few simple smoking safety tips. Smoking outside is preferable from a safety standpoint. Please avoid flicking butts and littering. Cigarette butts make up a huge percentage of the garbage collected in beaches and waterways. Former smokers who live in northern climates have probably witnessed the mounds of butts that appear during the first thaw. Casual littering hurts the reputation of smokers and the environment. Ashtrays should be positioned securely on a surface that is difficult to ignite or tip, such as an end table. If outside, dousing cigarettes in water or sand is the best method to make sure they are extinguished. Many cigarette fires occur in trash receptacles. Avoid dumping cigarette butts in the garbage, especially if there are still smoldering or smoking embers. A dedicated ashcan should be provided in areas where smokers congregate. Refrain from smoking in bed and be extra cautious if sleepy, inebriated or under the influence of prescription drugs or narcotics. If you are smoking on a sofa, take extra care and check for butts that have fallen on the upholstered surface. A final point, smoking around flammable devices, fluids and medical oxygen is a terrible idea and should be avoided at all times.

Cigarette Burns

Direct cigarette burns are another smoking danger. Contact burns are likely to be minor and often untreated. More severe cigarette burns are generally dealt with at a local clinics, private medical practices and with local first aid treatment. There is no reliable estimate for the number of these. A much more serious condition caused by cigarette burns is toxic epidermal necrosis. A 2010 study in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine examined a case where a cigarette burn on the forearm morphed into a life-threatening condition. The resulting skin loss from toxic epidural necrosis is similar to a severe burn and can be fatal unless intense medical intervention occurs. This scenario is quite rare, a single case is cited in the study, but there is also only a single vape battery death on record in US. The difference in coverage afforded these two tragedies is glaring.

Vaping Safety

It should be noted that many of the high profile vaping accidents, the most famous being the fatal mech mod explosion in Florida, did not involve your run of the mill e-cig. The Florida tragedy remains the only one of its kind and a horrific aberration. Mech mod enthusiasts are e-cig pioneers and a foundational pillar of the vaping community. The overwhelming majority of mech mods are used safely and the overall number of vaping explosions is statistically insignificant. That being said, please make sure you are completely familiar with all aspects of safety before attempting to create your own build. This popular video on Ohm’s law is a starting point, but make sure you are fully up to speed on all aspects of mech mod safety. There are plenty of tools available online. If your vaping journey takes you into this vibrant world of unregulated mech mods, take full advantage of the knowledge and shared experience of this group. If you have any questions or doubts about your skill level, there are plenty of powerful box mods available. Most regulated mods are powered by changeable 18650 lithium ion battery. The safety precautions you can take to protect yourself are fairly simple. If you use a device that does not have removable batteries, many of these tips also apply. The key to battery safety is to store and transport them safely. Do not keep them loose in your pocket where they can come in contact with coins, keys, other batteries and any other number of items. The same holds true for purse storage. Use a dedicated container that safely holds the batteries in place. Purchase high-quality batteries from a reputable source. There are knockoffs out there. Rewrap torn batteries. For devices that use more than one battery, pair your batteries into sets. This way they are at the same stage of their life cycle. Do not expose your batteries to extreme temperatures, hot direct sunlight or water. When charging, use a proper charging station. Seemingly convenient methods of charging your batteries can actually damage them. Avoid using improper USB cables or the port on your computer to charge your mod. Most modern mods have robust software to protect the battery from damage, but the best method remains the dedicated charger. Supervise battery charging. Do not leave batteries to on the charger overnight or when you are not present. Lithium ion batteries do not last forever. When they start to fade and not hold their charge, it is time to replace them. The same tips also apply to the larger 21700 batteries. We recently compared the respective benefits of the 18650 and 21700 lithium ion batteries.