MIAMI (CBSMiami) — E-cigarettes have become extremely popular as an alternative to smoking tobacco. But in some cases, taking a puff of an e-cig has become even more dangerous than the long-term effects of smoking tobacco.
Evan Spahlinger is still shaken up over what happened.
“I didn’t feel any heat in my hand at all before it happened. But when it happened it was basically like a pipe bomb. Just exploded,” he recalls.
The young man looks a lot better today than he did four months ago. After a series of surgeries, he has his face back and he can breathe on his own.
“I literally thought I was going to die,” Spahlinger said.
October 26th, he woke up and reached for something called a “mod” — a heavy duty, customized e-cigarette.
“Went to take a drag and nothing happened. I just didn’t hear anything. So I did a little hand check to see what was going on. You know flipping it around, checking it out. And when I did that motion and as soon as I picked it back up towards me, it ignited,” he said.
The device spewed battery acid all over his face and into his mouth. He struggled to the bathroom to wash it off and then went outside.
“As I consumed oxygen it just got depleted. My body wasn’t getting air,” he explains.
His sister dialed 9-1-1. Paramedics rushed him to nearby Naples Community Hospital.
“About ten minutes after I got there is when I realized this is serious. Because they told me they have to incubate. Which is when they put a big tube down your throat and the machine breathes for you… because they told me my airwaves were closing up. I had burns in my entire esophagus, and my lungs. And battery acid in my lungs, which no one has ever dealt with before,” he said.
Spahlinger blacked out and woke up four days later at Kendall Regional Hospital.
“I had third degree burns to my entire face. I thought I was going to be, if I didn’t have great plastic surgeons and doctors than I was going to lose half my face. I was scared.”
Months later, he’s getting back to being himself and he’s talking about what happened in hopes of saving lives.
“I mean it was an alternative to smoking cigarettes. Supposed to be a safer and a healthy way of doing it. If I would have known that there is a risk of me fighting for my life and being in a hospital, I would have never picked it up,” said Spahlinger.
We wondered if this is a thing. Do e-cigarettes explode?
“Yes. Yes. Absolutely,” said Spahlinger’s attorney, Catherine Darlson of Kelley/Uustal Trial Attorneys. She claims an unregulated industry is putting you at risk.
“These devices are not safer alternatives to cigarettes. They are not safe devices when there is no regulation and the manufacturers and the designers are not held accountable for making products that aren’t safe,” Darlson said.
A quick search online and you will find dozens of cases involving e-cigarettes exploding. In many cases, the battery overheats and explodes.
Darson alleges Spahlinger’s mod, made by Vaping American Made Products, has a design flaw.
“This device didn’t have proper ventilation. It was allowed to overheat in a manner that created all the pressure, something called thermal runaway, something that happens with batteries frequently. It overheats and it explodes. It’s like a pipe bomb,” she said. “So basically, they are saying the heat has nowhere to go.”
Darlson continued, “Evan’s wasn’t manufactured in a way that was going to let any heat out. The only way it was going to get out was for it just to explode out. And unfortunately it happened in a manner that resulted in him almost dying.”
Darlson has filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the vapor device, the battery, and the vaping shop that sold him the device. None of them agreed to comment for our story.
The Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA), the largest trade group dedicated to advocacy, awareness and education for the vapor products industry, did issue a statement. It says, in part:
“While these incidents are taken very seriously, millions of former smokers across the United States and overseas continue to use these products as intended and have found vaping to be a significant alternative to combustible cigarettes. Proper care and safety dictate that people use the correct type of charger and follow manufacturer guidelines when recharging their devices.”
We asked Spahlinger if perhaps he did something wrong, as many critics on the web have suggested.
“I did everything exactly like I was instructed. Everything worked fine for a year. I had different mods, different vapes, and different batteries. Everything worked fine,” Spahlinger says.
And to those who still doubt it could happen to them?
“All I can say to the people who are in denial, it’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when,” he said.
Lawsuits involving e-cigs are really just getting started. However, a California woman recently won $2 million when an e-cig exploded in her car.
Spahlinger says he no longer smokes or vapes.
The Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association provided the following safety tips for e-cig users.
Proper care and safety dictate that people use the correct type of charger and follow manufacturer guidelines when recharging their devices.
• Do not use incompatible batteries and chargers.
• Follow battery usage, storage and charging guidelines found in the user’s guide.
• For modified devices, in particular, consumers should consult with established resellers to ensure proper configuration.
• Avoid dropping the device and battery contact with metal objects such as coins, keys or jewelry.
• Keep device away from extreme temperatures such as excessive heat or cold.
• Do not damage the battery or get the unit wet.