Experts call to rein in ‘catastrophic’ e-cigarettes
Explosions cause serious burns in US, sparking fears for Australian users.
Experts have expressed concerns about the potentially “catastrophic” dangers of e-cigarettes after two malfunctioning devices caused horrific injuries in recent days.
On Monday (AEDT), an e-cigarette exploded in Cassandra Kozio’s face, blowing out one of her teeth and then engulfing her car in flames.
Ms Hamilton’s injuries were extremely graphic, with images showing her teeth missing and face burnt.
“My face looked so much worse last night because I had char all over it,” Ms Hamilton told Associated Press.
“I pushed the button, I felt an impact on my face, I let go and then I saw sparks fly off into passenger side.”
The woman, from the US state of Florida, said she felt lucky to still be alive.
“The best thing you can do is always to find something to laugh at, becuase if you don’t then you’re going to be lost.”
E-cigarettes are devices that produce mists for inhalation, allowing users to simulate the act of cigarette smoking.
Last week, dramatic video emerged of an e-cigarette exploding in a Kentucky man’s pocket at a service station, giving him second-degree burns.
Luckily, Josh Hamilton was inside at the time and nowhere near the station’s fuel pumps.
The video then showed him running outside and frantically trying to take his pants off.
“Second degree burns all up and down my leg. Just had an Ecig [e-cigarette] battery blow up and catch fire inside my pocket! Ouch ow ow ow,” Mr Hamilton posted on Facebook.
‘Catastrophic’ for consumer safety
After hearing these reports, Quit’s Victorian director, Dr Sarah White, told The New Daily that the regulation of these products in Australia was still extremely poor.
“They are just another two examples of a product that doesn’t have any level of scrutiny in terms of consumer safety,” Dr White said.
“Although the number of incidents that happen are quite low compared to the number of people who use them, results can be catastrophic in nature.”
Dr White said Quit was calling on the government and relevant consumer regulation authorities to better test e-cigarettes.
“They need same regulating and tests that apply to all sorts of other consumer goods,” she said.
“We can’t buy a power board or a child’s toy that isn’t regulated stringently.
“An e-cigarette is a device that is rechargeable, it heats liquid to a high temperature, it delivers a vapour of an unknown composition to the lungs and yet there are no safety standards on it.”
The laws surrounding e-cigarettes in Australia are complex and different in each state, with some outlawing them and others allowing them for “personal use”.
In its official position statement on e-cigarettes, the Australian government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration agreed with Dr White’s view.
“No assessment of electronic cigarettes has been undertaken and, therefore, the quality and safety of electronic cigarettes is not known,” it wrote.
“The Australian Government is concerned about the use of electronic cigarettes in Australia. The impact of wide scale use of these devices on tobacco use is not known, and the outcome in the community could be harmful.”
Leading Australian consumer advocacy group, CHOICE, judged “the safety of e-cigarettes as questionable” in May 2015.
The Cancer Council Australia has also expressed its concern regarding e-cigarettes’ danger to consumers.
“[E-cigarettes] are unlikely to meet basic consumer product safety standards, including around design features, packaging, accuracy and clarity of labelling and quality of instruction on use.”
With many of the devices bought online, and amid concerns from Dr White of cheap unregulated e-cigarettes making their way into Australia, the products’ dangers cross borders.
Public health benefit?
Dr White said the jury was still out in regards to the public health benefits of e-cigarettes to Australians.
The New Daily published a story in January which found experts were divided about the devices’ benefit to the public.
University of Sydney emeritus professor in social medicine and tobacco control activist, Simon Chapman, said he disagreed with the “misleading” suggestions slamming the products.
“When it comes to it, there is no doubt about it that e-cigarettes are going to be far less dangerous than cigarette smoking, because there is really nothing that comes close to cigarette smoking.
“The real comparison is how dangerous are they compared to breathing clean air?”
Those comments followed a US study published in Oral Oncology, which compared the vapours of two popular brands of e-cigarettes.
The results “strongly suggested” e-cigarettes harmed the body’s cells and could promote cancer.
– with reporting by Emma Manser