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All the Ways Your Vape Pen Might Kill You

From cancer to explosions to hot nicotine liquid burning a hole through your lung

Last month, a Florida man died after his vape pen exploded in his face. According to the New York Times, this marked the first death by a vaping product in the U.S. “The man, Tallmadge D’Elia, was at his home in St. Petersburg, Fla., on May 5 when the device, also known as a vape pen, exploded, according to William A. Pellan, the director of investigations at the medical examiner’s office for Pinellas County,” the Times reported. “He confirmed that the cause of the accidental death was a ‘projectile wound to the head,’ and that Mr. D’Elia, 35, had suffered burns on about 80 percent of his body.”

Per the same report, the vape pen that exploded was from Philippines-based company Smok-E Mountain Mech Works, which sells mods (bigger, bulkier e-cigarettes with batteries that help produce more smoke) that look like shotgun shells.

Last year, the U.S. Fire Administration reported 195 e-cigarette related fires and explosions from 2009 to 2016, and though none of those reports resulted in death, it got us thinking about all the ways a vape pen might, well, kill you.

As it turns out, an e-cig exploding in your face might not even be the worst way to go.


The common claim is that e-cigarettes aren’t as bad for you as normal cigarettes. “A 2014 study found that the levels of toxicants in e-cigarette vapor are nine to 450 times lower than in cigarette smoke,” reported my colleague Ian Lecklitner, while ranking all the ways of smoking tobacco in order of how bad they are for you.

Yet while much of the research on e-cigarettes is in its early stages, according to the most recent study from researchers at New York University School of Medicine (as reported by Medical News Today), e-cigarettes are definitely cancerous — we’re just not yet sure how cancerous. “Based on these results, we propose that [e-cigarette smoke] is carcinogenic and that e-cig smokers have a higher risk than non-smokers to develop lung and bladder cancer and heart diseases,” wrote study co-author Moon-shong Tang.


Perhaps the only way that regular cigarettes are safer than e-cigarettes is the fact that they don’t have batteries, and therefore, can’t explode in your face. As mentioned above, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, “the fact that vape pens use lithium-ion batteries creates a ‘new and unique hazard’ since they’re prone to exploding,” reported the New York Times.

One such vaping horror story (with gory pictures) happened to an Idaho man who lost seven teeth and suffered second-degree burns after his vape pen exploded in his face, Gizmodo reported last year. Another incident happened to a man in California who lost an eye while vaping. “The 63-year-old now wears a black patch because his left eye had to be removed and replaced with a prosthetic one,” reported ABC 7.

Fire (Because of Explosions)

Technically speaking, explosions cause fires. But in most cases, when a vape pen explodes, it just destroys the vaper’s face. However in this case, a 15-year-old boy who left his e-cigarette charging while he slept woke up to find that his room was on fire. “Nathan Holt had left the device charging overnight at his £115,000 terraced family home in Bolton, Greater Manchester, when he awoke at 2.30am on Friday to find his bed in flames,” reported The Daily Mail. Luckily, no one was hurt, but according to the same report, the fire destroyed his bedroom and caused severe smoke damage to the upper floor of the house.

Nicotine Lava

Cancer, explosions and fire might seem somewhat obvious e-cigarette death scenarios. A less obvious one? An e-cigarette that burst and shot hot nicotine liquid down a man’s throat, burning a hole in his lung. “Richard [Courtney] was walking home from a mate’s house when he tasted fluid and started coughing,” reported The Sun.

According to the report, once Courtney went to the hospital, he was informed that his right lung was working at just 25 percent. How did they figure out the pen was spitting nicotine lava down a man’s throat? Simple: They attached it to an oxygen tube and witnessed the spitting liquid first hand. As for Courtney, the liquid nicotine burning a hole in his lungs wasn’t enough to convince him to quit.

Which raises the question: What sort of death trap does an e-cigarette have to concoct to scare you off smoking forever?