Vaping horror: 4 in NJ say they were badly burned by exploding e-cigs
Greg Burdash, a married father of two living in the Camden County borough of Berlin, said he gave vaping a chance in order to quit smoking cigarettes and save his health.
But on Sept. 29, during a break at work, the e-cig battery he had in his pocket exploded. Burdash was rushed to the hospital suffering from debilitating third-degree burns over 20 percent of his body.
“I was in complete shock," he said Thursday during a news conference in Princeton. "I heard a hissing sound, and then the explosion and then the pain. I looked down and my leg was on fire and I started running."
“I have had incredible pain since then. I’ve not been able to return to work. It not only hurts you financially, it hurts you mentally and physically, I still have bleeding, and my doctor has told me nerve damage is expected to be permanent.”
Burdash said he was speaking out because “I want people to be aware of the dangers of vaping and how harmful this can be and I don’t anyone to suffer the way I have."
Burdash is one of four recent plaintiffs in New Jersey filing lawsuits against the retailers that sold them the e-cigs that they say left them with serious injuries.
The two underage and two adult plaintiffs are represented by the Lawrenceville firm Stark & Stark, which has partnered with Bentley & More, a California firm that has litigated e-cig complaints across the nation.
“These and other cases involve horrific injuries suffered by wonderful people who were simply using a product the way it was intended to be used,” said attorney Greg Bentley.
He said people are being injured just about every day by defective e-cigarette lithium ion batteries.
“They are just randomly exploding in people’s faces. Batteries in people’s pockets causing significant life changing injuries,” he said.
E-cigs or electronic vaporizers are an alternative to tobacco smoking. They emit a vapor that is said to be less harmful than smoking tobacco products. Users can choose to vape liquid cartridges containing nicotine, which can help some users end their cigarette addictions.
The e-cig industry insists their products are safe.
Bentley claims the problem is 90 percent of e-cigarette products are manufactured in China, and the companies making them understand it’s almost impossible to hold them responsible for the defective lithium ion batteries that are in the e-cigs.
“It’s an industry that’s literally exploding, both in dollar numbers, in consumers that are using it, and in the products that are exploding randomly,” he said.
He noted more than 31 million American adults have tried e-cigarettes, and 9 million are regular users. Last year Forbes estimated the e-cigarette industry was worth $3.7 billion, and it continues to increase.
Bentley claims the e-cig industry is targeting teenagers, offering e-cig liquids with fruity flavors and silly names.
“Studies show 16 percent of high school students have used an e-cig product,” he said.
The Food and Drug Administration this year banned sales of e-cigs to minors.
“We know the problem is going to continue unless this industry checks itself and makes sure the product is safe," Bentley said.
The FDA this year implemented new rules to regulate the industry, forcing manufacturers to seek government approval for the liquid nicotine products that they sell.
But the lawsuits are putting the spotlight on the safety of the hardware.
Bentley says that the lithium ion batteries used in e-cigarettes are flammable and combustible, and they can explode if they’re defective.
He said based on the 100 cases they’re handling so far, e-cig battery explosions are random and unpredictable.
One underage victim in New Jersey had an e-cig explode in her mouth in May. The explosion caused her to lose four teeth and suffer severe face and mouth burns as well as corneal abrasions that have damaged her vision, lawyers said.
William Grant was hospitalized twice after a March 2015 accident with an e-cig device. The incident left him with third-degree burns to his leg, requiring skin grafts to his right foot, lawyers said.
Another New Jersey teen suffered second-degree burns to his chest and upper arm and minor burns on his left arm, chest and neck, his lawyers said.
Bentley stressed “no one has exact jurisdiction over this industry so no one really knows how many of these e-cig explosions have taken place.”
He described the e-cig industry as “staying under the radar, hoping people won’t notice what’s going on. So by filing these lawsuits, our goal is to bring attention to the problem, to let the industry know they need to do something about these defective, dangerous products so consumers can use them in their intended fashion.”
He pointed out the vaping industry has so far resisted regulatory control efforts. Bentley added e-cig products are still being sold without any type of warning or notice.
“How many more people are going to have this product explode, causing significant injuries, until the industry says enough is enough? We’re going to warn about it. We are going to continue to push, fight and seek full compensation, holding everybody in the supply chain accountable. We will be looking toward the retail stores, because they sold the product that’s defective, they’re responsible for the harm that’s caused.”
Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.