Sunday, February 19, 2012

Electronic cigarette explodes into controversy

One of the hottest topics in electronic cigarettes since their emergence into the marketplace over the last few years is the recent case of a man claiming that an electronic cigarette exploded in his mouth.

First, let’s start this commentary by stating that E Cig Werks is a blog working to provide information on the growing electronic cigarette marketplace as an e-cig supporter and industry advocate.

Like any decent journalist, I appreciate open discussion and want to give anyone with a differing opinion and position on electronic cigarettes the proper respect and benefit of the doubt.

In its first few days, the exploding e-cig incident in Pensacola, Fla., has been reported in the media mainly based on descriptions of an emergency call to an ambulance and paramedics, and some third party reports. Beside the fact that we don’t know whether the exploding electronic cigarette was even an e-cig or a cigar, it also seems that the battery of the device may have been modified by the victim, who appears to be someone who had been using electronic cigarettes to avoid tobacco cigarettes for a couple years.

So, considering that an estimated 2.5 million people are now enjoying electronic cigarettes, this is really the first high profile report of any serious mishap. I’ve been following the electronic cigarette industry and marketplace for well over a year and have just been waiting for the first e-cig “horror story” along these lines. There have apparently been other incidents mostly due to battery modifications, some of which are reported with additional detail on the Electronic Cigarette Forum (ECF).

It certainly is a sensational story, and is getting some sensational media coverage. So far, the headline “Electronic cigarette explodes in man’s mouth” has appeared hundreds of times in newspapers and on websites around the world. It doesn’t get much worse than that from a public relations and image perception standpoint.

Just how additional details on the exploding cigarettes story pan out will likely determine its level of impact on the electronic cigarette industry. Even if the facts of this story are essentially correct, there are some aspects that merit closer review.

First, the exploding electronic cigarette may have actually been more like a larger electronic cigar that was modified with batteries by the victim. Either way, it's still a tragic situation for the victim and his family.

Also missing from most reports on this story is the fact that this is one of the first reported electronic cigarette accidents after several years of overall industry growth. Yes, there have been significant debates on exactly how the industry and products should be regulated, but an objective review seems to point to a pretty good record when it comes to product safety.

While we can't downplay the impact of this individual incident on the victim, it should be kept in reasonable perspective to the bigger picture of electronic cigarettes as a legitimate product.

It will be interesting to see how this incident plays out in today’s over litigious society. The fledgling electronic cigarette industry doesn’t likely have the deep pockets of the traditional tobacco industry, yet.

So, even thought it doesn’t seem that this incident is somehow designed to extract some easy money from an electronic cigarette producer, it’s not hard to image it could just be the beginning of a rash of similar claims about electronic cigarette mishaps.

Maybe it is just as it appears as an accident brought about by modifying a product in a manner that it was really not intended. This is really no different than changing the parts on a car, a computer or any other appliance, tool or device. Unfortunately, in this case, there were significant consequences and injuries.

Finally, the incident may trigger further calls for electronic cigarette regulation from a variety of sources or agencies. This should be welcomed by the industry and its customers as long as the regulation is reasonable and fairly balances the best interests of consumers and the ability of electronic cigarettes to succeed in the marketplace.

E Cig Werks will continue to follow further developments on this story and please provide your comments and insights.