Everybody has heard rumours about e Cigarettes setting on fire, batteries exploding and people being sacked after plugging in their dangerous chargers at work – but what’s the true picture of this? Through a freedom of information request, we were able to get hold of the data from Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service relating to e cigarette incidents.
The request was as follows:
How many fire incidents your fire services have been called out to in relation to electronic-cigarettes? These would include fires caused by the electronic-cigarettes themselves, their batteries or their chargers.
Please separately provide data for incidents where your fire service has been called out in relation to mobile phones. This would include fires caused by the phones themselves, their batteries or their chargers.
e Cigarette Total Incidents
As we can see from the above chart, these incidents are no myth and do happen. There has been a significant increase in reported incidents over the past few years, but how does this break down?
e Cigarette Fires
Sadly, these number hide some of the facts. The incident in 2013 led to loss of life for one person and in 2014 three people we taken to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation after a single incident. If we compare the e Cigarette fires chart above to the total incidents chart, we can see that the spike at 2014 matches, but the above shows that fires in 2017 tailed off, so what’s happening there?
e Cigarette False Alarms
As we can see on the false alarms chart above, there has been a large uptick on 2017. This shows although the number of incidents reached record numbers in Derbyshire, actual fires have reduced. So what are the possible reasons for this?
- e Cigarettes better constructed and self extinguished over time
- User awareness higher, so they’re not being left to charge overnight or unattended, allowing the fire to be tackled early
- Better supply chain as market establishes; less cheap non-BS standard imports available
- Smoke alarms in premises give early warning
Lets now look at other appliances that charge using similar methods – mobile phones.
If you have either of these devices in your household you’ll notice the similarity of their setups; switched mode power supply plugged into your wall socket, USB style lead plugging into that, micro USB plugged into the appliance. Nearly all new mobile phones and e Cigarettes use the same, so let’s compare.
Mobile Phone Total Incidents
Straight away we see a completely different picture. 3 Reported incidents over the same timescale.
As does the fires chart – 2 of the incidents resulted in a fire.
Mobile Phone False Alarms
Leaving a single false alarm reported in 2016. Zero of the mobile phone incidents required any hospital treatment or caused loss of life.
Mobile Phone vs e Cigarette Ownership
But that only tells us part of the story. If we look at the above chart, based on 2016 data, we can see that around 93% of the UK population owns a mobile phone whereas only 13.4% at the same time was or had been an e Cigarette user. If we normalise this data to show a direct comparison of incidents we start to see a much more depressing picture.
This shows us that if there was the same number of e Cigarettes in use as there was mobile phones, for every 3.2 incidents involving mobile phones we could expect to see over 231 incidents involving e Cigarettes. That suggests e Cigarettes are 72 times more likely to require you to call 999. That’s a worrying number.
Why the big difference?
There could be many different reasons. Cheap or poorly constructed chargers or e Cigarettes is likely to be the main one. Poorly manufactured batteries can become hot to touch and if covered can start a fire. Mobile phones tend to made by huge manufacturers and large international brands. As such they’ll go through more testing and more rigorous design processes than e Cigarettes. Being huge brands, negative publicity costs them massively. When Samsung had battery fire issues with their Galaxy Note 7 model, it was reported that the recall cost the company £4.3 bn. Almost £11 bn was wiped from the companies share price as investors lost confidence. There isn’t the same knock on effect or risk to e Cigarette manufacturers.
What can I do about it?
If you are concerned about using or charging your e Cigarette what can you? Find an established retailer, someone you can trust. If they’ve been trading for a while, they’ll have had issues reported back to them, withdrawn any problematic devices from sale and improved their purchasing process. This may account for the drop in actual e Cigarette fires. Avoid importing cheap alternatives from online marketplaces. A good retailer will want to sell to you more over time so it’s not in their interest to sell cheap rubbish. A bad google review is more damaging to them than selling cheap rubbish. Look for the British Standard (PAS 54115:2015) when purchasing a new e Cigarette, only use the recommended charger & never leave charging unattended.
This article was updated in May 2020 as ECITA, a former trade organisation for e Cigarette retailers in the UK has since been dissolved.
Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service – Freedom of information act data
Ofcom – Mobile phone usage data
Office for National Statistics – e Cigarette user data
BBC News – Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall cost
Time – Samsung share price drop