KUSA - Electronic cigarettes -- or vaporizers -- have been touted as safer alternatives to tobacco. Now, one Colorado teenager says he plans to quit smoking altogether after his e-cig exploded, causing severe burns to 6 percent of his body.
Last month, 19-year-old Alex Shonkwiler was badly burned after the lithium battery inside of his e-cigarette blew up in his pants pocket.
He began vaping about nine months ago in effort to quit smoking.
“I was putting on my pants and all of a sudden a flame flew up,” Shonkwiler said, “It was like touching a stove over my whole leg.”
Within seconds, Shonkwiler said his entire pant leg was on fire. His roommate helped him put the flame out before taking him to urgent care.
Shonkwiler was then referred to the Burn Center at University of Colorado hospital where he received treatment, including skin grafts on his right leg.
“I didn’t realize how bad the burns were until I looked down at my leg, the skin was just hanging. That’s when the pain really started sinking in," he said.
From the explosion, Shonkwiler received second and third-degree burns on parts of his upper right leg and his stomach.
He said he had to take time off of work and school during his recovery.
‘It could have been a lot worse had I really freaked out,” Shonkwiler said.
Dr. Arek Witkor of the University of Colorado Burn Center treated Shonkwiler when he came to the hospital for treatment.
Shonkwiler is the sixth patient to be treated for burns at University of Colorado Burn Center following an e-cigarette explosion.
“This is becoming a more common problem as people use these devices,” said Witkor, “There appears to be a connection between rechargeable batteries having been overcharged. Or in some cases, moisture gets into the casing and then it causes an explosion.”
Witkor said he has seen patients with burns to their necks and faces after the e-cig they were using exploded mid-use.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 80 percent of reported e-cigarette explosions occurred while the device was being charged. Meanwhile, 12 percent of reported e-cig explosions occurred while the device was in use. Industry experts have said incidents involving e-cigarettes are rare and are often a result of user-error.
No deaths have been linked to the explosion of e-cigarettes.
(© 2016 KUSA)