The Unrecognized Epidemic of Electronic Cigarette Burns

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Abstract

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are novel battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine as an inhaled aerosol. They originated from China in 2007 and their use has rapidly increased worldwide in the past decade, yet they remain largely unregulated. Reports of injuries associated with their use have appeared as unusual events in the news media and as case reports in the medical literature. This study was undertaken to explore e-cigarettes as a mechanism of burn injury. Referral records to three burn centers from January 2007 to July 2016 were searched to identify patients with injuries caused by e-cigarettes. Data were gathered from the electronic medical records (EMRs) of patients referred within the most recent 18 months. Thirty patients with burns resulting from e-cigarettes were identified. Twenty-nine were referred within the most recent 18 months. Only one was referred in the preceding 8 years. An explosion was identified by the patient as the inciting event in 26 of the 30 injuries (87%). Explosion of an isolated battery while it was carried on personal attire was reported in 10 cases. Explosion of a fully assembled e-cigarette was described in 16 cases. In seven of these 16 cases, the explosion occurred while the device was idle and carried on personal attire. In the other nine cases, the explosion occurred while the device was being operated. No injury occurred while batteries were charging. The mean age of injured patients was 30 years. The mean size of burn was 4% TBSA. The thighs, hands, and genitalia were the most common sites of injury. Twenty-six patients required hospital admission and nine required surgery. Serious burn injuries from e-cigarettes have recently occurred with greatly increased frequency. The increase in injuries appears out of proportion to the increased popularity of e-cigarettes. The most common pattern of injury is explosion when either the idle device or its batteries are carried on personal attire.

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