Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Defective Electronic Cigarette Battery Injures One Person; Defective but Legal Cigarette Lighters Injure 1000 Per Year

In February, an electronic cigarette battery exploded in a man's mouth, causing serious injuries. That one event led many to argue that electronic cigarettes are unsafe and some to state that they are not even safer than cigarettes. A number of anti-smoking groups, such as Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, have linked to this story in an effort to convince the public of the dangers of electronic cigarettes (which will, of course, discourage them from trying to quit smoking using these products).

The explosion of this electronic cigarette battery emphasizes the need for the Food and Drug Administration to promulgate regulations to protect vapers -- most importantly, to ensure that appropriate quality control measures are used by all electronic cigarette companies. However, those who have responded to this story by scaring the public into thinking that these products are no safer than cigarettes may not be aware of the entire story.

The Rest of the Story
According to an article on the WFMY (Greensboro, NC) web site, cigarette lighters are responsible for about 1,000 injuries each year and an exploding lighter may have been the cause of one man's death. The article states: "the lighter had a defective seal. After it had been used, the defective seal allowed the butane to keep flowing. A small flame stayed lit, hidden by the wind guard. And when Bill put the lighter in his pocket, it exploded, giving him third degree burns. Bill was using an MK lighter made in China. The Consumer Product Safety Commission found that defective cigarette lighters caused nearly 1,000 injuries a year."

In other words, the rest of the story is that exploding cigarette lighters cause far more injuries (by at least two orders of magnitude) than electronic cigarettes. Thus, even ignoring the reduction in adverse health effects attributable to the fact that electronic cigarettes do not involve the combustion of tobacco, these products are far safer than cigarettes merely because there has only been one reported case of a battery explosion-related injury compared to a thousand annual injuries from cigarette lighters.

The lack of perspective displayed by many anti-smoking groups in warning the public about the dangers of electronic cigarettes is striking. So is the overwhelming bias in many of these groups' presentation of the scientific facts. For example, while Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights presents article after article scaring people about the potential, but un-demonstrated hazards of electronic cigarettes, it links to not a single scientific study which has demonstrated beneficial effects of using these products, including the only clinical trial conducted on electronic cigarettes, in which these products were associated with a 22.5% six-month smoking abstinence rate among unmotivated smokers.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for the public to get the full story about science and health issues from the anti-smoking groups. This is why I believe there is such a need for a source where the public can continue to get "the rest of the story."

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