Improved surveillance of e-cigarette injuries needed, study finds

By Alex Branch

Dennis T Web
 
A School of Public Health alumnus and a current faculty member have received national media attention for research that concluded the number of injuries caused by electronic cigarettes is probably drastically underreported.

Amid increased attention given to the safety of e-cigarettes, The New York Times, CNN and other media outlets have referenced the study led by Matthew Rossheim, PhD, Assistant Professor at George Mason University and 2014 UNT Health Science Center graduate.

A case study about a 17-year-old boy who suffered graphic injuries to his face when an e-cigarette exploded was published this summer in the New England Journal of Medicine. In February, a Fort Worth man was killed when his e-cigarette exploded.

“We found that better surveillance of these injuries is much needed,” Dr. Rossheim said. “There are serious injuries occurring, such as people suffering 2nd or 3rd degree burns, losing teeth and suffering damage to their tongue and face. Bystanders have been injured by projectile injuries.”

UNTHSC School of Public Health Dean Dennis Thombs, PhD, assisted Dr. Rossheim on the study that was published in 2018 in Tobacco Control, an international peer-reviewed journal.

Dr. Rossheim’s team concluded that e-cigarette injuries are likely underestimated by searching a Consumer Product Safety Commission database for injuries related to e-cigarette use.

The database does not specifically track e-cigarette injuries but has a function that allows users to search by keyword the narratives associated with reported injuries.

“What Dr. Rossheim did was pretty clever,” Dr. Thombs said. “He created a set of keywords associated with e-cigarette explosions and found many more serious injuries than is being reported nationally.”

From 2015 to 2017, there were an estimated 2,035 e-cigarette explosion or burn injuries reported at U.S. hospitals, the study found. That’s more than 40 times the number reported by the Federal Drug Administration from 2009 to 2015, and 15 times the number reported by the U.S. Fire Administration from 2009 to 2016.

The cause of the explosions could be a phenomenon called “thermal runaway,” caused by a failure of the e-cigarette’s lithium-ion battery that may lead to overheating and explosion, according to the study.

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