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Posted on: June 26, 2019 at 8:23 pm
Last updated: August 3, 2019 at 12:50 pm

A young teen simply identified as “Austin” from Ely, Nevada had only started vaping to help control his cigarette addiction. He’d convinced his mom that vaping was a safer and better alternative to traditional cigarettes, and despite her initial concerns, she got him a VGOD e-cigarette.

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Austin’s accident happened in March last year, but details of the case were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on June 20, 2019 [1]. It was part of an awareness campaign to enlighten people (especially teens) on the dangers of vape pen use. Speaking to The Washington Post, Kailani Burton, Austin’s mom, said her son’s horrific accident could be likened to the “explosion of a circuit breaker [2].”

The sound was significantly loud. She could never have imagined it to be the sound of her son’s face shattering. Her other son had come in to alert her about the accident, screaming that “it blew up.”

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“I could see blood in his mouth and a hole in his chin,” Kailani said.

The local hospital in Ely wasn’t equipped with the proper facilities to handle Austin’s injuries, evidence of how severe they had been. No one could believe a tiny vape pen could cause so much damage. Five hours later, Austin, in pain, bleeding and all gauzed up, arrived at the Primary Children’s hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah with his family.

Austin’s treatment procedures

According to the NEJM, Austin’s injuries were “a circular puncture to the chin, extensive lacerations in his mouth, multiple disrupted lower incisors and bony incongruity of the left mandible.”

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Dr. Jonathan Skirko, a pediatric ENT surgeon at the children’s hospital likened the injury to “a close-range gunshot wound.”

His injury was fairly extensive where he had lost several teeth. There was not really much tissue along his gum line where the teeth sit either,” Dr. Skirko said to Daily News [3].

I’ve dealt with lots of facial trauma . . . and dealt with some really kind of exotic things like grizzly bear attacks and things like that, but this is one that I had never seen before,” he said to The Washington Post.

According to pediatric trauma surgeon Dr. Katie Russel, a two-centimeter piece of the teen’s jaws had been shattered in the explosion.

 He had a very swollen lower jaw and lip, a small burn on his lip and a huge cut in his mouth,” Dr. Russel explained. “That’s an injury we see in high-speed motor vehicle crashes. It’s a big injury. At that point, we had no idea that vape pens could cause such a substantial injury. It takes a serious amount of force to break your jaw and to break it in the way that he did.”

Austin couldn’t explain how the explosion occurred. He’d only been using his vape pen just like he always did. How it happened to blow up and shatter his face is something he cannot recall or explain.

Two reparative procedures were performed on the teen’s facial structure. He underwent dental extraction to remove some of his broken teeth and titanium plates were used to hold the bones of his broken jaw in place. The doctors did their best to fix up his other minor injuries and he was good to go after a short while. 

Recovery

Six weeks later, Austin was fully recovered and the fixations used to hold his mandibles in place were removed. Now a high-school graduate, he has vowed to never smoke or vape again, using his terrible experience to enlighten other young adults. 

“He just quit,” his mother said. “He does tell people, ‘This is what happened to me. This is what could happen.”

VGOD, a California-based vape-pen manufacturer has declined to give a statement on Austin’s explosion which was caused by a product of theirs. 

Vaping: An increasing source of public concern

Austin’s case isn’t the first of its kind. In February this year, a 24-year-old man from Texas was killed after a vape pen exploded in his mouth [4]. A splinter from the device went down his throat and sliced the carotid artery in his neck, subsequently leading to a stroke. 

He’d been using a mechanical mod style vape pen which he hadn’t been sure how to operate. Investigators from Tarrant County explained that the cause of the explosion was most likely a faulty battery which powered the device. The patient died two days in the hospital two days later.

E-cigarettes are powered by lithium-ion batteries which are suspected to be the major contributors to the now-alarming rate of vape pen explosions. A 2018 report published in the British Medical Journal recorded 2,035 people to have been involved in accidents from vape pens explosion between 2015 and 2017 [5]. A lot of these incidents resulted in severe burns and scalds, others in bone fractures and destabilization, and a few in the death of the victims.

A recent report published by the U.S Food and Drug Administration estimates that 3.05 million high school students in America were using vape pens in 2018 [6]. This is a 78% increase from the records in 2017. The administration also estimated that about 570,000 middle school kids are now using vape pens, a 48% increase from 2017 to 2018. These statistics are alarming, given the recent stories of the explosion of these devices. The youngsters using these vapes are most likely doing it indiscriminately and without restraint.

 The FDA also explains that one of the most popular reasons for the increasing use of e-cigs is flavoring. Teens especially are attracted to the nicotine or methanol flavors produced by e-cigarettes. Also, most people consider it to be a safer bet than smoking cigarettes, a consideration that has been deemed a misconception by several health organizations [7]. While they are not as harmful as tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarettes also contain several volatile organic compounds that may be carcinogenic and damaging to the respiratory system [10]

Vape-handling safety tips

In 2017, the FDA published an article to educate vape pen users on important safety tips for the prevention of explosions [8]. The review was centered on battery-related issues which are believed to be the major causes of the explosions. The FDA advises that until a better and more reliable source of energy is found for the devices, users would have to be more cautious in handling and recharging their vape pens. The most important precaution is to understand the directions for use and to know the battery type specified by the device’s manufacturers. Vape pens should be insulated from extremely hot or cold temperatures and should always be kept isolated from human bodies while charging.

“Everyone seems to be vaping,” Dr. Russell said. “It seems like this technology has really taken off, but we didn’t really get adequately educated about the possible risks.”

  1. Katz et al. Injury from E-Cigarette Explosion. New England Journal of Medicine. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMicm1813769. Retrieved 24/06/19
  2. Editor. A teen’s injuries looked like he was in a ‘high-speed’ crash. Instead, a vape pen exploded in his mouth. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/06/20/teens-injuries-looked-like-he-was-high-speed-crash-instead-vape-pen-exploded-his-mouth/?utm_term=.84a822eb4862. Retrieved 24/06/19
  3. Torres, Ella. Vape pen explodes, shatters 17-year-old boy’s jaw and breaks his teeth. New York Daily News. https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/ny-vape-pen-explodes-injures-boy-20190619-kp7q7rzicndc3pycvkq7hwjzfi-story.html. Retrieved 24/06/19
  4. Nisbet, Jordan. Another man dies after vape pen explodes, severing an artery in his throat. The Hearty Soul. https://theheartysoul.com/another-man-dies-after-vape-pen-explodes-severing-an-artery-in-his-throat/. Retrieved 24/06/19
  5. Rossheim et al. Electronic cigarette explosion and burn injuries, US Emergency Departments 2015–2017. British Medical Journal. https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/28/4/472. Retrieved 24/06/19
  6. Admin. 2018 NYTS Data: A Startling Rise in Youth E-cigarette Use. U.S Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/youth-and-tobacco/2018-nyts-data-startling-rise-youth-e-cigarette-use. Retrieved 24/06/19
  7. Admin. Is Vaping Better Than Smoking? Heart.org https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/quit-smoking-tobacco/is-vaping-safer-than-smoking. Retrieved 24/06/19
  8. Admin. Tips to Help Avoid “Vape” Battery Explosions. U.S Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/products-ingredients-components/tips-help-avoid-vape-battery-explosions. Retrieved 24/06/19
  9. Official website. Official VGOD. https://officialvgod.com/. Retrieved 24/06/19
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507184/
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