By Alexandria Hein
Published June 20, 2019
A 17-year-old Nevada teen was left with what looked like “close-range gunshot wounds” after a vape pen that his mother had given him to help him quit smoking exploded in his mouth. In fact, his injuries were so severe that his doctors submitted his case to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) so that others could be made aware of the potential dangers.
The teen, identified by his mother as Austin, reportedly assured his parents that he had done his research on the devices before requesting one to help him quit smoking. Kailani Burton told The Washington Post that she had heard about the possibility of the devices exploding and had warned her son repeatedly.
“I told him, ‘You gotta be careful, these things have happened,’” she told the Post.
But in March 2018, about a month after getting the device, Burton said she heard a loud pop followed by her son’s screams.
“I could see blood in his mouth and a hole in his chin,” Burton told the Post.
She rushed him to a local hospital but due to the severity of his injuries, he was transferred over 200 miles away to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.
“He had a very swollen lower jaw and lip, a small burn on his lip and a huge cut in his mouth,” Dr. Katie Russell, a pediatric surgeon who treated the teen, told The Post. “A two-centimeter piece of his jaw was just blown to pieces.”
Austin has since recovered after undergoing two surgeries to fix his wounds and titanium plates placed in his jaw bone. Jonathan Skiro, a pediatric ear, nose and throat surgeon who helped care for Austin, told the Post that his injuries looked like “a close-range gunshot wound.”
Russell said she submitted the case because they had never seen injuries as severe as Austin’s at the hands of a vape pen.
“I had no idea that these vape pens could blow up and cause serious injury,” Russell told The New York Times. “This technology hit the market by storm and people are not aware. But the fact is that they can burn you. They can explode in your pocket. They can explode in your face. I think there’s a health concern.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says 3.62 million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2018, a noted 78 percent increase among high school students from 2017, and 48 percent increase among middle schoolers.
While the agency warns about vape pen explosions causing serious injury, it notes that the exact causes of such incidents remain unclear but evidence suggests battery-related issues. The FDA said the best way to protect against such incidents “may be knowing as much as possible about your device and how to properly handle and charge its batteries.” It also requests all incidents of explosions be reported through the FDA Safety Reporting Portal.