E-cigarettes can start life-threatening fires

E-cigarettes can start life-threatening fires

The irony of having to help a woman suffering from smoke inhalation in a house fire caused by an e-cigarette and its charger cannot have been lost on the firefighters who attended.

This was the first fire of its kind in London, and needed four fire engines and 20 firefighters to bring it under control. But it would be wrong to snigger about it, because a similar fate could await thousands of others who could fall into the same trap as the victim of this one. She is said to have been using the wrong charger, but there have been reports of people using the right chargers becoming victims of explosions as e-cigarettes launch themselves from chargers and start fires in homes and cars.

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The devices work by having a tiny rechargeable lithium-ion battery that powers a heating element to vapourise a nicotine solution for the smoker to draw into their lungs. The problem is said to result from these batteries having no in-built cut-off switch for when they’re fully charged. They simply keep trying to take more charge, eventually generating heat and leading to these shocking consequences. That’s why the London Fire Brigade has urged e-cigarette users never to leave the devices on charge overnight or while they sleep.

They add: “People assume e-cigarettes are much safer than ordinary cigarettes, and in most cases they are. The danger is that people sometimes use incorrect chargers, which runs the risk of over-charging, which can potentially have explosive results. We are calling on e-cig retailers to ensure they are selling the correct chargers for the cigarettes.”

When batteries are overcharged, or malfunction, they can get hot, and present a serious fire risk. One manufacturer warns that if this happens, they should on no account be thrown into the bin, but should be placed on a heat resistant surface –they suggest a granite worktop – until cool. Another manufacturer advises taking the device outside immediately, and keeping it away from people and pets.

The value of the e-cigarette market in the UK soared to £193m in 2013, and the devices are predicted to surpass the sales of conventional cigarettes before very long. That means that the risk of fire and personal injury is massively multiplied, and with it the risk of further injuries.

The messages are simple:
• recognise that even a tiny device has the capability to start a life-risking fire
• buy e-cigarettes from reputable dealers
• understand that things can go wrong with them
• always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions
• never leave them on charge overnight
• never leave them on charge whilst you sleep
• remember that they don’t stop charging automatically

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