Florida Man Found Dead After Vape Pen Explosion
With countless brands of portable nicotine and cannabis vaporizers hitting shelves, the first-ever e-smoking fatality raises questions about the safety of the often-unregulated electronics.
Published on May 25, 2018

A portable vaporizer exploded in the hand of a Florida man this month, in what has been described as the first fatality directly caused by the increasingly-popular devices.

According to the New York Times, Tallmadge D'Elia, 35, was in his St. Petersburg home in early May when his vaporizer combusted, causing a "projectile wound to the head." After striking him, the vape caught on fire, quickly engulfing at least one room of the house in flames. When he was found by first responders, D'Elia had severe burns on 80% of his body.

After further investigation, officials believe that it was D'Elia's Smok-E Mountain Mech Works brand mechanical mod that caused his accidental death. By bypassing regulatory circuits for more direct access to the vaporizer battery, mechanical mods allow users to produce larger clouds of vapor, but are also considered more dangerous than standard vape pens.

The contents of D'Elia's vape pen have not been released, but mechanical mods are typically used in nicotine vape pens, while THC and CBD vaporizers generally rely on the type of lithium ion batteries found in cell phones and laptops. Still, both legal and black market cannabis extractors already offer cannabis-infused e-liquid or vape juice that is compatible with modifiable vaporizers like the one that killed D'Elia.

As both nicotine and cannabis vaporizers become increasingly popular, the recent tragedy, as well as a number of other incidents involving vape-induced fires, has lead to increased questioning about the long-term safety of vape products and calls for overarching regulation on the technology. Until 2016, the F.D.A. did not regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products. Once that changed, vaporizer companies were going to be required to submit a premarket tobacco application (P.M.T.A.) in order to stay on shelves, but the deadline for the application was pushed to 2022.

"No other consumer product places a battery with a known explosion hazard such as this in such close proximity to the human body," a 2017 report from the U.S. Fire Administration detailed. "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."

Currently, batteries and modifications made to accommodate both nicotine and cannabis-based vaporizers can be purchased in smoke shops, gas stations, and on the internet with few if any barriers to access or enforced regulations.

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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