The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) have an upcoming workshop scheduled to look at the safety of e-cigarettes. In particular, they will discuss the safety concerns of the lithium-ion batteries used to power electronic cigarettes.
The two-day public workshop will include presentations and panel discussions about the safety concerns of lithium-ion batteries as well as how potential safety hazards and risks are communicated to consumers and the public. In conjunction with the public workshop, FDA is establishing a public docket to gather data and information on hazards and risks associated with the use of batteries in electronic cigarettes.
Hundreds of reported incidents across the country where consumers have been badly hurt prompted the FDA and CTP to organize the workshop. These incidents include situations where batteries have exploded in pockets, faces, hands and other parts of the body. The explosions have reportedly caused fractured bones, damage to eyesight and severe burns that sometimes need surgery or skin grafting procedures. A recent example occurred in Alabama where an e-cigarette explosion seriously burned a man when the device exploded in his pocket, covering his leg in flames and causing second- and third-degree burns.
By holding the workshop, the FDA and CTP seek to gather information about the factors that contribute to lithium-ion battery failure. The FDA’s website lists several concerns to be discussed at the workshop including the fact that the lithium-ion batteries are often cheaply made, lack adequate protection, and are sold to be used in electronic cigarettes that do not offer proper ventilation.
The FDA’s website also references specific issues that can cause overheating in these lithium-ion batteries, which is of importance because overheating is believed to be one of the primary causes of the explosions. Some of the more prevalent issues are over-charging, over-discharging, and short circuits. If the heat cannot dissipate faster than it generates, a thermal runaway situation will occur, which is the uncontrollable chemical reaction that causes heat to build up and the battery to explode. Most lithium-ion batteries used in electronic cigarettes are “unprotected,” meaning they have inadequate safety features to prevent this type of overheating.
The e-cigarette industry has had little to no oversight by government agencies until this past year when the FDA finalized a rule that brought e-cigarettes and their component parts under their regulatory authority. At this point, it is too soon to know whether the FDA’s new authority will sufficiently address the potential hazards of e-cigarette devices and their lithium-ion batteries. These types of workshops are a good sign.
If you would like more information about these cases, you can contact Will Sutton, a lawyer in our firm’s Toxic Torts Section. Will can be reached at 800-898-2034 or by email at William.Sutton@beasleyallen.com.
Source: FDA.gov and Righting Injustice
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