Vaping may or may not be healthier than smoking conventional cigarettes, but a recent incident involving a teenage boy, in which an exploding e-cigarette blew out several of his teeth and cracked open his jaw, is a serious cause for concern.
A one-paragraph-long case study published today in The New England Journal of Medicine describes the extensive damage that can be caused by exploding e-cigarettes. Around a year ago, a 17-year-old male showed up at the emergency room with pain and swelling in his jaw. Two hours previously, a vape had exploded in his mouth as he was using it.
The doctors treating him observed a circular puncture to his chin and large gashes inside his mouth. A 3D scan of the teen’s head revealed the true extent of the damage.
“The vape blew up his lower jaw causing a major fracture and bone loss,” said Katie Russell, a pediatric trauma surgeon who treated the boy at the University of Utah Health Care and Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. “He also lost multiple teeth, had a large cut in his mouth, and some lip burns.”
The hospital’s ear, neck, and throat surgeon added a plate to the teen’s lower mandible and wired the jaw shut. A dentist installed a small device (as shown in the photograph above) to secure the teen’s teeth while the jaw healed, explained Russell.
Six weeks later, an assessment revealed the teen was recovering well, and the wire ligature was removed. More than a year later, the teen “is still missing teeth but hopes to get implants this summer,” Russell told Gizmodo in an email. She added: “He quit smoking after this.”
When asked to comment on the sudden surge in vaping, Russell did not mince words, describing the trend as an “epidemic.”
“Vaping hit the market with storm and millions of youth are using these devices,” she said. “It seems like the overall feeling is that vaping is more innocent than smoking conventional cigarettes, but I’m not sure we know that. Nicotine is detrimental for the developing brain. In addition to that, these devices can explode causing major harm. This is becoming more and more common.”
The brand of e-cigarette was not disclosed in the case study, nor was the cause of the explosion.
That vaping can be very dangerous is hardly a secret. Back in February of this year, for example, a Texas man was killed after an exploding vape pen severed an artery to his brain. A similar accident happened last year in Florida. The problem has to do with the highly volatile lithium-ion batteries used in these devices. A now out-of-date report from the U.S. Fire Administration showed that, between 2009 and 2016, at least 195 incidents could be traced to exploding vapes, of which 133 resulted in injuries.
In terms of the lesson learned from this latest incident, we’ll give the last word to Dr. Russell.
“My advice is that we all continue to educate consumers and specifically engage our youth population in this discussion,” Russell told Gizmodo. “I recommend refraining from this habit.”