A man trying to kick the smoking habit was puffing on an electronic cigarette when a faulty battery caused it to explode in his mouth, taking out some of his front teeth and a chunk of his tongue and severely burning his face, fire officials said.
"The best analogy is like it was trying to hold a bottle rocket in your mouth when it went off," said Joseph Parker, division chief for the North Bay Fire Department. "The battery flew out of the tube and set the closet on fire."
Officials have not publicly identified him, citing fire department policy. But a Facebook page under the name of 57-year-old Tom Holloway was filled with well-wishers commenting on the injury and database searches matched his address on the fire report with his name.
Holloway was in his office at home when the device exploded, leaving behind burned chair cushions, pictures, carpet and office equipment. A scorched battery case found on a piece of melted carpet appears to be one for a cigar-sized device, the report said.
No other recorded incidents
Investigators do not know the brand of cigarette, type of battery or age of the device, Parker said. It appears the battery was rechargeable lithium because a recharging station and other batteries were in the room, he said. Parker said he has yet to hear of any similar instances.
Thomas Kiklas, co-founder of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, said the industry knows of no problems with the cigarettes or batteries exploding.
Kicklas said the rigid, plastic cigarettes include a small battery and cartridge. The battery is designed to generate an electric charge when the device is inhaled. The charge sets off vapor in the cigarette tube. The nicotine-filled mist gives the taste and experience of smoking without the smoke.
Kiklas cited a federal report that found 2.5 million Americans used electronic cigarettes last year.
"There have been billions and billions of puffs on the cigarettes and we have not heard of this happening before," he said.
The industry does not claim electronic cigarettes allow smokers to kick the habit, just that they are a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes because they have fewer chemicals, Kiklas said.
The Food and Drug Administration posted a warning about the cigarettes on its website in October 2011 saying that e-cigarettes were addictive, could contain dangerous chemicals like nicotine and might encourage kids to try other tobacco products.
In 2010, the agency sent letters to some e-cigarette makers for violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act including "violations of good manufacturing practices, making unsubstantiated drug claims and using the devices as delivery mechanisms for active pharmaceutical ingredients," according to the FDA website.
(Sapa, February 2012)