ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — ABC Action News first told you about a vape pen explosion that killed a St. Petersburg man. Today, the vape pen company that sold him his device is fighting back, blaming the batteries and a bigger industry-wide problem.
Experts warn counterfeit batteries are everywhere and hard to spot. A big difference from the real ones is the fakes can’t handle the power produced by the vape pen, and that has devastating consequences.
Search online and you can find hundreds of vape pen batteries for cheap. But you could be paying for a phony.
“The number coming into the U.S are a tremendous number. They’re mostly coming out of China," said Walt Tracinski. He tested batteries for NASA. He also serves as an expert in court cases involving vape pen explosions. But he’s never seen one as bad as Tallmadge D’Elia’s.
“Actually that’s a violent explosion. Usually these are venting," he said, "That’s [his was] an explosion. That’s unusual.”
It could be the first death of its kind in the nation. The St. Pete man’s autopsy report says his vape pen exploded so intensely it went through his skull and brain. But neither the medical examiner nor the St. Petersburg Police Department could give us more details about the battery his vape carried.
Smok-E Mountain Mech Works, D’Elia’s vape pen brand, is on the defensive. They responded via Facebook Messenger saying they don’t manufacture batteries and adding they’ve had a problem with cloned devices and fake batteries not recommended for vaping spreading in the market.
“Very dangerous. You have a simple flame or you can have an explosion," he said of the fake batteries. “It just can’t handle the power. It’s not designed for the power.”
Furthermore, he says of the 10 cases he's served on as expert, he believes seven of them involved a fake battery. Even more alarming a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the sale of vape pens and e-cigs has “skyrocketed" since 2011, but spotting the fake batteries is a big problem.
“The average consumer could not tell even the average smoke shop could not tell easily," said Tracinski.
It’s so tricky even he has to use X-rays and CT scans to make an educated guess. But what can the average consumer do?
“Where did you get your battery from? Were they cheaper there than some other places because that’s probably your biggest red flag," he said.
He advises you buy from reputable online sites. He believes you are more likely to get a fake by purchasing online. Also, avoid vape pens without a digital regulator because those help stop the battery from overheating.
Avoid cheap vape models in general and don't modify the e-cig. People have been known to change the coils and replace them with coils of a different resistance to get more vapor, faster. It could effectively double the current from the battery and makes it closer to overheating.
Don't charge them above 4.2 Volts per cell and don't keep them in your pocket. If metal like a loose chain or keys touches the battery, fake or real, it can cause it to start overheating.