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No smokescreen: Shedding light on e-cigarette safety

closeup of black e-cigarette on wooden background

August 11, 2018

As a jet was beginning to land on a runway, a fire started in its shipping container from overheating lithium-ion batteries in an e-cigarette box. In another incident, a Florida man died when his vape pen exploded, sending a piece of shrapnel into the victim’s head. Far from hypothetical scenarios, these are real incidents that happened because of battery malfunctions with e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are a battery-operated device that simulates the experience of traditional cigarette smoking without the inhalation of smoke. E-cigarettes have been growing rapidly in popularity over the years. For sale in the U.S. market since 2007, the number of e-cigarette smokers in America reached 2.7 million as of March 2016. Annual e-cigarette sales have reached $2.5 billion in the U.S. and are expected to reach $50 billion globally by 2025.

As the demand for e-cigarettes has grown, so too have the safety concerns. Recent media reports about e-cigarettes overheating and catching fire have brought the issue of battery safety into the spotlight for the public.

“Historically, UL has stayed away from tobacco-related products for health reasons and conflicts with our mission. But, given the numerous incidents and news reports of the fires and injuries caused by e-cigarettes, we revisited our involvement,” said Michael Sakamoto, senior business development manager at UL.

“We are experts in battery technologies and their systems,” Sakamoto continued. “For more than a decade, UL has dedicated an entire team to researching the broad issues that affect the safety of lithium-ion batteries to help manufacturers and the more general industry understand better how to reduce the number of unsafe incidents. Knowing most of the e-cigarette incidents occurred while the battery was charging, we felt compelled to become engaged and assist with this issue to help contain it.”

To address these safety issues, UL recently published ANSI standard, UL  8139: 2018 Electrical Systems of Electronic Cigarettes and Vaping Devices, after evaluating the electrical, heating, battery and charging systems of these products. The development of UL 8139 also addresses specific fire safety concerns raised by North American fire officials.

Although e-cigarettes are not regulated in the U.S. market, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed a rule in April 2014 to address the health effects of inhaling the product’s vapors.

“E-cigarette consumables, including e-liquids, vapor substances, wicks and other particulate matter, and their long-term or physiological effects, are outside of the current scope of UL’s evaluation,” said Sakamoto. “UL addresses the electrical safety associated with e-cigarettes, while the FDA will focus on the health safety aspects.”

UL Certifications of e-cigarette electrical systems will appear in the Electrical Systems for Electronic Cigarettes product category in the UL online certifications directory. Learn more about UL’s safety testing and certification of lithium-ion batteries—visit us now.