With thousands of Canadians now vaping regularly, doctors are warning about one of the little-known risks of e-cigarettes: sudden explosions that can cause devastating injuries.

Just last week, a teen in Kitchener, Ont., was taken to hospital with severe burns caused by a vaporizer that exploded inside the car he was driving.

Sean McGrath was driving when the e-cigarette his friend was holding suddenly exploded, bouncing off the windshield and setting the dashboard on fire. He manage to pull over and take his friend out of the car before it was engulfed in flames

McGrath told CTV Kitchener he had heard about exploding e-cigarettes, but had always thought they were “urban legends” -- until he experienced one himself.

What was most baffling about the incident, he said, was that the vapourizer showed no signs it was about to explode; it didn’t even overheat.

In January, Lethbridge, Alta., teen Ty Greer made headlines when his family shared images of the second-degree burns he suffered from an e-cigarette explosion. He was left with a burned tongue, throat, and mouth. If he hadn’t been wearing glasses, he might have suffered eye damage as well.

Last month, a team of doctors from Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital detailed some of the injuries they have seen in recent years from vaping explosions. They noted that while e-cigarettes are now widely used and viewed as safer alternatives to cigarettes, “the devices themselves are unregulated and carry unrecognized safety risks.”

Toronto-area emergency room physician Dr. Brent Belchetz says e-cigarette explosions can cause significant injuries to the face.

"There can be quite serious cosmetic or functional implications, possibly for potentially the rest of their lives,” he told CTV News.

The problem seems to lie in overheating batteries. Vendors such as Jay Field, who owns Voodoo Vapes in Kitchener, says explosions can happen when users try to “hack” their own vapourizer using mismatched components.

Field says users need to have basic electronics knowledge before trying to build their own device so that they use the right heating element with the right batteries. Build it wrong and it’s going to overheat, he says.

“If they take one of those tube mods, it’s basically a pipe bomb if they don’t know what they’re doing,” he told CTV Kitchener.

All provinces except Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador have banned the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. Field says in many cases, underage teens use the devices incorrectly because they aren’t allowed into vaping stores to receive training on proper use.

But doctors such as Belchetz says education isn't enough.

"When we are looking at a device that people are putting in their mouth, for that to be a completely unregulated electrical appliance that could explode if not used correctly, we really need to relook at our policies,” he says.

Les Hagen, from the group Action on Smoking and Health, agrees and says these recent explosions are one of the reasons why e-cigarettes need to be regulated federally and provincially.

"We absolutely need product standards,” Hagen said. “They shouldn't explode in your mouth."


With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip