Without any scaremongering, it can be reliably stated that lithium ion batteries can, and do, catch fire. This has been true in all technologies that use lithium ion and LiPo batteries, but as is so often the case, the vaping industry is somehow considered “fair game”. Negative media reports abound in a way that is never applied to mobile phones, tablets, laptop computers and electric cars. This of course seems unfair to us, but at least it gives us the opportunity to be brutally honest with ourselves and our customers about the risks associated with the battery technology we use.
Having stated that lithium ion batteries catch fire, we also need to balance the statement. Tens of millions of lithium ion batteries are safely used on an everyday basis by the vast majority of vapers, mobile phone users, and IT equipment users. The rate of adverse incidents is incredibly low, and gets lower every year as technology improves. It is probably fair to say that since 2012 Totally Wicked’s sales of devices has increased approximately five fold, but in that time we have seen a substantial decrease in the number of reports of batteries venting. Ten times safer than 2012 would be a fair estimate of the safety improvement, and everyone involved in responsible vaping device production is working on improving this figure to a single aim: no adverse events with lithium ion batteries. Is this aim achievable? Possibly, but it won’t just be the industry that needs to work on this – vapers will also need to take some responsibility.
With every order containing a device, we include safe battery use instructions. While we know that not every customer is going to read, remember and follow these instructions to the letter, we know of few, if any incidents where flagrant disregard for what most would consider to be basic common sense has not been a contributory or root cause.
In our experience of investigating such incidents, the number one cause has to be mechanical damage that either causes the battery to leak, or forces an internal short. What does that mean for safe use? Avoid dropping your device, avoid dropping your batteries, stop using them if they are dented or damaged in any way, and if they are so damaged as to not fit easily into your device, do not hammer them in the wrong way around. (Seriously, this has actually happened! It caused the battery to vent without injury to the “hammerer”, which was incredibly fortunate.)
Number two cause: charging and charging equipment.
Cheap mains to USB wall plugs are cheap for a reason – they tend to have spikes, and poor regulation, and have often not been tested to the most basic safety standards. Be aware that there is a tiny risk of venting with any charging equipment, and charge on hard surfaces that will not be damaged should anything untoward occur. If you charge a device under your bedclothes you not only risk overheating of the battery and the charger, but if the battery does vent because of this you may also find your mattress is damaged. (This has happened as well). While we recommend that devices are never left charging unattended or overnight, some of us have been known to do this, but never in a position where a mishap might cause compounded damage. If you want to scare yourself clear of anything like this, just google “mobile phone charging under pillow”. Beware, the image results are not for the feint hearted!
Given the most common causes of incidents, it’s also worth considering other ways in which the results of unlikely events can be mitigated. I reel in horror when I see a customer remove a “bare” lithium ion battery cell from their pocket and use it to replace the depleted battery in their device. Lithium ion batteries, charged or uncharged, are not a good thing to carry in a pocket, and should always be transported in a non-conductive and protective case. If they come in a cardboard box that will do fine for the first day or so, but why not invest 99p in a battery sleeve or case? It could save you a pair of trousers or a handbag.
All scaremongering aside, an awareness of very small risks with potentially larger consequences should keep you vaping safely for a very long time. Thinking it couldn’t happen to you will always be a mistake.