- In the first recorded US death from a vape pen, a 38-year-old man in Florida has died after an e-cigarette exploded, pierced his skull, and set a room on fire.
- The type of pen that Tallmadge Wakeman D’Elia, or “Wake,” was using is called a mechanical mod, or “mech mod.”
- It’s a device that’s popular among e-cig hobbyists and experienced vapers because of how precisely it can be customized.
In the first recorded US death from a vape pen, a 38-year-old man in Florida has died after an e-cigarette exploded, pierced his skull, and set a room on fire.
Tallmadge Wakeman D’Elia, whom friends called “Wake,” had been at home in St. Petersburg, Florida, when the explosion happened, The New York Times reported. D’Elia suffered burns on roughly 80% of his body but his cause of death was ruled a “projectile wound to the head,” from the vape pen.
The type of pen that D’Elia was using is called a mechanical mod, or “mech mod.” It’s a device that’s popular among e-cig hobbyists and experienced vapers because of how precisely it can be customized.
Although this is the first recorded death from an e-cig, it has long been known that the devices pose an explosion hazard. In what remains the largest and most comprehensive report on the health hazards of vaping, researchers from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found “conclusive evidence” that e-cigarettes “can explode and cause serious injury.”
A 2017 report from the US Fire Administration also documented an explosion risk linked with vape pens and highlighted the risks of those that used lithium-ion batteries, which it called a “new and unique hazard.” The report documented 195 non-deadly fires and explosions related to e-cigarettes between 2009 and 2016.
In general, e-cigs heat and vaporize an e-liquid solution (often nicotine) that a user inhales. But mech mods are more customizable and can be more risky.
A special type of device popular among experienced vapers
The device D’Elia was using at the time of his death was made by Smok-E Mountain Mech Works, headquartered in the Philippines. The e-cig falls into a class of vape pens known as “mechanical mods” or “mech mods.”
Mech mods are popular chiefly among enthusiasts and experienced vapers, who enjoy the high degree to which they can be customized for a longer pull or a higher nicotine hit. In general, mech mods include three parts – the housing or casing (which can be metal or wood and may be tube- or box-shaped), one or more batteries, and an atomizer (the heating part of the device that vaporizes e-cig liquid).
A Smok-E Mountain representative told ABC Action News that its devices do not explode and said instead that the problem may have stemmed from the battery that was used.
In general, other more popular e-cig devices don’t have an external battery or atomizer; many disposable vape pens, for example, are all-in-one devices that can be used on their own with no additional pieces of equipment.
Researchers are still assessing the health risks of those types of devices, but some concerns have begun to mount over their surging popularity among teens whose brains are highly vulnerable to addiction and because they appear to expose users to some of the toxic chemicals also present in traditional cigarettes.