In recent years, the popularity of electronic cigarettes – commonly known as vapes – has skyrocketed. The latest trend is for disposable vapes, which provide a similar, single-use experience to a cigarette, albeit with significantly more plastic. The problem of disposable vape waste has caught the attention of many governments, and the products may be banned entirely from the UK, EU, US and elsewhere within the next few years.
Disposable vapes are a cheap and smokeless alternative to traditional tobacco products, which purport to have less adverse health effects than their traditional cousins. While they may appear harmless, however, they come with at least one alarming and potentially dangerous downside – fire risks. Below, we’ll delve into the potential dangers posed by disposable vapes, and what can be done to mitigate these risks.
Disposable vapes are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which have become a staple energy source for countless devices due to their high energy density, fast charging, and ability to be charged many times with minimal loss in capacity. While these batteries are generally safe when handled properly, they can pose a significant fire hazard if misused or mishandled.
One of the primary reasons for fires in disposable vapes is battery malfunctions. If the battery’s internal components are faulty due to cheap manufacturing, or become damaged through misuse or in transit, it can lead to overheating or, in worst-case scenarios, thermal runaway – a chain reaction of uncontrollable heat generation that can culminate in a dangerous explosion.
The vaping industry’s rapid growth has outpaced regulation in many areas, and attracted countless counterfeiters, all seeking to exploit the demand for disposable vapes. These counterfeit products often cut corners on quality and safety measures, aiming to save money and pump as many products out as possible. This inevitably leads to increased fire risks, and huge dangers for consumers.
Problems ranging from low-quality batteries, to poorly designed or manufactured circuitry, to inadequate safety features such as vents and overcharge protection are common in counterfeit disposables. All of these defects and deficiencies make them more susceptible to overheating and causing fires, potentially injuring anyone who is carrying them.
While reusable vape pens often contain high-capacity rechargeable batteries, most disposable vapes are not intended to be recharged. Despite this, some users attempt to do so anyway, either out of convenience, from not understanding the difference between disposable and rechargeable vape pens, or to extend the life of their device.
Charging disposable vapes that are not designed for it can result in unpredictable consequences similar to charging a standard AA battery, such as battery damage, fires, or even explosions. The absence of proper charge regulation in these devices unfortunately increases the likelihood of these incidents, even with devices that claim to be rechargeable.
User error is unfortunately a significant factor contributing to fire incidents involving disposable vapes. Because vapers are often used to treating smoking paraphernalia casually – storing tobacco and lighters loose in bags and pockets – they can habitually mistreat disposable vape pens in a way that can prove dangerous.
Careless handling, exposure to extreme temperatures, and puncturing the battery are just a few examples of actions that can lead to dangerous consequences. Additionally, storing disposable vapes in pockets or bags alongside metal objects, like keys or coins, can create a circuit with the battery, and potentially lead to a thermal event.
How to prevent disposable vape fires
While disposable vape fire incidents are a serious concern, they can be significantly reduced by following these preventive measures:
Purchase from reputable sources
Only buy disposable vapes from reputable sellers, both online and in-store, to ensure you are purchasing genuine products with stringent safety standards. This generally means checking reviews carefully, and avoiding open marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon unless buying from confirmed and approved suppliers.
Follow manufacturer instructions
Always abide by the manufacturer’s guidelines and warnings, whether that relates to using the vape pen, storing it safely, or whether it is possible to charge it. If a disposable vape is not designed for recharging, resist the urge to do so.
Avoid counterfeit products
Be cautious of extremely cheap deals, as these tend to be too good to be true, and the risks are never worth it (either in terms of fire safety or hazardous chemicals). Always check for signs of authenticity when buying and receiving the products too, such as certification markings and appropriate, high quality packaging.
Always make sure to store your disposable vape away from direct sunlight, extreme temperatures, and potential sources of impact or puncture, as all of these pose a fire risk. Be mindful for instance of leaving them in a hot car or inside a bag, as these may become hotter than the outside environment.
Pay attention to signs of battery damage, such as swelling, leaking, or overheating, as these could be precursors to a dangerous fire or explosion. Stop using the device immediately if any issues arise, and do not attempt to replace the battery. Instead, dispose of the pen safely in accordance with any disposal or recycling instructions.
Fire safety precautions
If you are a habitual vaper or smoker, it’s always a good idea to equip yourself with a fire extinguisher and a smoke alarm in your living space, and learn how to use it. A lithium ion fire extinguisher is specifically designed for battery fires such as those that occur with vape pens, although this should not be used with other types of fire it is not rated for.
Disposable vapes are a source of both convenience and novelty for vapers, but the proliferation (and lack of regulation) mean they can pose very real safety risks. By understanding the dangers outlined above and taking sensible precautions, users can make the right choices when purchasing vapes, and ensure a safer vaping experience.