FRESNO, Calif. --They're peaking in popularity, but are they sagging in safety? An explosive lawsuit could light up the e-cigarette industry.
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"Obviously, they have not done what needs to be done to protect the public," said Adam Stirrup, an attorney for the teen suing e-cigarette maker Shenzhen IVPS Technology.
It all started with a fire at a Clovis school. It was quite a shock for students and teachers when a Clovis East senior caught fire in the middle of class a couple months ago. But explosions and fires from e-cigarettes are no surprise at all to the industry, or the federal government.
Second and third-degree burns will linger for a lifetime on this 17-year-old -- burns so bad, we don't want to let you see the full extent.
The boy says he was just sitting in class when an e-cigarette in his pocket exploded and caught fire. "He's got pretty serious burns on his hand as he reached into his pocket to pull the cigarette out, and on his leg," Stirrup said. "It burned straight through his pants."
E-cigarettes are sometimes billed as a safer alternative to real cigarettes -- reducing the exposure to cancer-causing chemicals -- and while the science is still out on whether that's true, there's no doubt e-cigs pose a different kind of danger.
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A 2014 report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency discussed fires and explosions they can cause. "The FEMA report goes so far as to say these cigarettes because of the lithium-ion batteries that are used in them, have a tendency to become like flaming rockets when the battery fails," Stirrup said.
Unlike our phones, which also have lithium-ion batteries, e-cigs have a heating element, so the fire danger is higher and the batteries can explode, as we saw in video from a Kentucky gas station just this week. The boy says that is almost exactly what happened to him.
His lawsuit claims the problem was spotted as far back as 2009 and the Chinese manufacturers have redesigned the SMOK product, but without making it safer or even adding a warning.
ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi says the lawsuit could have national implications. "If the entire industry knows about this defect, and they're not doing anything about it, whatever happens in this lawsuit is going to carry across the country," he said.
The e-cig manufacturer did not respond to our requests for a comment.
Clovis Unified administrators are well aware of the explosive situation. They say students aren't allowed to have e-cigs on campus, but since the boy kept it in his clothes, nobody noticed until it caught fire.