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Exploding vape pen caused Florida man’s death, autopsy says

From 2009 through 2016, there were at least 195 incidents in which an electronic cigarette exploded or caught fire,  according to the U.S. Fire Administration. (iStock)

In what is believed to be one of the first deaths from an e-cigarette malfunction, a 38-year-old man in Florida was killed when his vape pen exploded, sending projectiles into his head and causing a small fire in his house.

Tallmadge D’Elia was found May 5 in the burning bedroom of his family’s home in St. Petersburg, according to the Tampa Bay Times. An autopsy report released his week blamed a vape pen explosion for his death, local news outlets reported.

The cause of death was listed as “projectile wound of head” — the pen exploded into pieces, at least two of which were sent into his head, the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner said — and he suffered burns on about 80 percent of his body.

The “mod”-type pen is manufactured in the Philippines and distributed by Smok-E Mountain.

ABC affiliate WFTS reported:

A representative from Smok-E Mountain tells us their devices do not explode, instead telling us it is likely an atomizer (the part a person inserts into their mouth) or a battery issue. The company says they've had problems with other companies cloning their batteries, which makes them less safe. The company is hoping to see photos of the device that was used by D'Elia.

According to a report from the U.S. Fire Administration, which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there were at least 195 incidents in which an electronic cigarette exploded or caught fire from 2009 through 2016, resulting in 133 injuries, 38 of which were severe.

But there were no recorded deaths in the study's period.

The explosions usually occur suddenly, the report found, “and are accompanied by loud noise, a flash of light, smoke, flames, and often vigorous ejection of the battery and other parts.”

More than half of the total incidents, 128, included fires started on nearby objects.

The great mystery of e-cigarettes

The report blamed the incidents on the prevalence of lithium-ion batteries in the products. “No other consumer product places a battery with a known explosion hazard such as this in such close proximity to the human body,” it said. “It is this intimate contact between the body and the battery that is most responsible for the severity of the injuries that have been seen. While the failure rate of the lithium-ion batteries is very small, the consequences of a failure, as we have seen, can be severe and life-altering for the consumer.”

The health effects related to the ingestion of e-cigarette vapor are still being studied by government agencies.

There are no regulations that apply to the safety of the electronic mechanics or batteries of e-cigarettes, the U.S. Fire Administration report noted, though they are being considered by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Food and Drug Administration's recommendations for e-cigarette use include: not letting loose e-cig batteries come into contact with coins, keys, or other metal objects; not charging with a phone charger; not charging while unattended; and not mixing and matching different brands or old and new batteries.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the source of federal recommendations for e-cigarette use. Those recommendations came from the Food and Drug Administration, not the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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