A Florida man has died from what is believed to be the first deadly explosion of a vape pen. The body of 38-year-old Tallmadge Wakeman D’Elia, known to his friends as “Wake,” was discovered by firefighters on May 5 in the top floor of his St. Petersburg home after a fire in his bedroom. An autopsy revealed that his cause of death was “projectile wound of the head.” The Pinellas-Pasco medical examiner reported that the pen exploded, sending at least two pieces hurling into the air with such force that they penetrated D’Elia’s skull and brain. The Tampa Bay Times reports that he suffered burns over 80 percent of his body. His death was ruled an accident.
A Philippine company named Smoke-E Mountain manufactures the pen that caused Wake’s death. A company representative stated that they don’t believe it was their pen that exploded but rather the atomizer or battery.
A report from the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, states that there were at least 195 incidents involving exploding or burning electronic cigarettes between 2009 and 2016. Of those incidents, 133 caused injury, 38 of them severe. D’Elia’s death is the first to be reported as the result of an issue with an electronic cigarette. Aligning with Smoke-E Mountain’s statement, the report indicates that the incidents are largely related to the lithium-ion batteries that are typically used in the products.
“No other consumer product places a battery with a known explosion hazard such as this in such close proximity to the human body. It is this intimate contact between the body and the battery that is most responsible for the severity of the injuries that have been seen. While the failure rate of the lithium-ion batteries is very small, the consequences of a failure, as we have seen, can be severe and life-altering for the consumer.”
Of reported injuries from exploding vape pens is one in which the explosion happened in an Idaho man’s face, resulting in the loss of several teeth and second-degree burns. In another incident, the pen exploded in a New York man’s pants. He suffered third-degree burns.
Government agencies continue studying the health effects of e-cigarettes, and at this time there are no regulations to either the mechanics of the devices or the batteries that are used in them. The Washington Post cites the following recommendations from the Federal Drug Administration when vaping: don’t let loose batteries come in contact with anything metal like coins or keys; don’t charge your vape pen with your phone charger or leave it unattended while it’s charging; and don’t mix brands or old and new batteries.