ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — An explosion from an electronic cigarette killed a man in St. Petersburg, according to authorities who are investigating the circumstances surrounding his death.
Tallmadge D’Elia, 38, was found dead this month after a fire alarm went off at his home and officers arrived on the scene, according to his autopsy report. Officials found him with a wound to his top lip area and areas of burns to his body. His death has been ruled accidental.
The cause of death is identified as a projectile wound to the head, Bill Pellan, director of investigations at the Pinellas County Medical Examiner’s Office, said Tuesday.
The projectile was from a section of an e-cigarette. The autopsy noted that the e-cigarette was manufactured by Smok-E Mountain and was a “mod” type device.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that produce an aerosol by heating a liquid, usually containing nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Users inhale the aerosol.
More than one in every 10 adults has tried an e-cigarette even just one time, according to the CDC. E-cigarettes can come in many shapes and sizes; some are made to look like regular cigarettes, while others are larger devices such as tank systems or “mods.”
The exact causes of e-cigarette explosion incidents sometimes are unclear, but evidence suggests that battery-related issues may lead to explosions, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.
E-cigarettes that are similar in size and shape to traditional cigarettes come with a smaller wattage unit and therefore may not have the power to fail as dramatically, said Thomas Kiklas, chief financial officer of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.
Larger vaporizers — such as the device found in the St. Petersburg case — come with much larger and more powerful batteries.
“The two major causes of dramatic failures with the larger units are overcharging of the battery and then the shorting of the battery,” Kiklas said.
“Lithium ion batteries fail in other devices as well, but in a laptop, it’s on your lap,” he said. “In this case, with an e-vapor product, it’s close to the face.”
Though such incidents are rare, this isn’t the first time a spontaneous e-cigarette explosion has raised concerns.
There were 195 separate e-cigarette fire and explosion incidents in the United States reported by the media between 2009 and 2016, according to data released last year by the US Fire Administration.
For example, in 2015, an e-cigarette exploded in a man’s face in Naples, Florida, burning his face, chest, hands and lungs. In 2016, an e-cigarette exploded in a New York man’s pants pocket. He suffered third-degree burns.
Also that year, a 14-year-old girl had mild to moderate burns after an e-cigarette exploded in the pocket of a person nearby while on a Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
None of those cases was fatal.
Kiklas said there are two steps e-cigarette users can take to avoid the risk of an explosion.
“We’ve put the caution out before,” Kiklas said.
“Make sure that you use the charger that comes with the battery, and make sure the charger has a shutoff device, an automatic shutoff device, so it’s not overcharged. That’s typically the biggest issue which causes batteries to fail,” he said. “And two, never carry a battery alone, out of its case, in your pocket with change or keys, because that’s another way the batteries can short themselves out.”
The FDA also recommends replacing batteries if they get damaged or wet.