An awful first in the US: death by exploding vape pen. Former CNBC television producer Tallmadge D'Elia, 38, was found dead in a burning bedroom in his home in St. Petersburg, Fla., on May 5 as a result of what the Pinellas County medical examiner now says was an exploding vape pen. D'Elia, who was found with two parts of the electronic cigarette lodged in his cranium, died of a "projectile wound" to his head but also suffered burns to 80% of his body, an autopsy reads, per WTSP and the Tampa Bay Times. It concluded the death was accidental. Though such explosions are uncommon, there were 200 in the US between 2000 and 2016, WFTV reported in advance of the autopsy. According to FEMA, this is the first e-cigarette death in the US. Other users have lost teeth and suffered burns after similar explosions.
The FDA, which shares tips to avoid such explosions, notes "the exact causes of such incidents are not yet clear," though some evidence points to "battery-related issues." The agency and the CDC recommend using vape pens with safety features, including those designed to prevent battery overheating, and keeping batteries away from metal objects like coins and keys. The vape pen used by D’Elia, a Smok-E Mountain Mech Works "mod"—Vapes.com notes vape mods are modified e-cigarettes or vape pens that "can have built-in batteries and come with atomizer tanks while others need additional parts to function"—did not have safety features, reports WFTS. Claiming its devices do not explode, a rep for the maker tells the outlet he suspects something went wrong with the atomizer or battery, noting copycat batteries are an issue.