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Windsor teen badly hurt when e-cigarette explodes in his mouth

An electronic cigarette exploded in a 15-year-old Windsor boy’s mouth, causing him to lose about a half-dozen teeth, police and fire officials said.

The explosion sent hot shards of the device scattering, with some still hot like embers on the floor when firefighters arrived after a 911 call came in just after 1 p.m. Jan. 17 at a home on Summer Rain Drive off Los Amigos Road, said Cyndi Foreman, a fire prevention specialist with the Central Fire Authority of Sonoma County.

“His teeth literally fell out with braces on them,” Foreman said. “He had lacerations to his lip and tongue. It literally exploded in his mouth.”

The boy was taken to Kaiser Medical Center in Santa Rosa and released with a referral to an oral surgeon, Foreman said. The boy told paramedics that the so-called “vape pen” had been modified, Foreman said. She did not have details about how it had been modified.

Fire and law enforcement officials did not report the incident to the public. However, news of the boy’s injuries — and a gruesome photograph — spread on social media.

The incident appeared to be the first such explosion in Sonoma County, or at least the first to garner attention, according to officials with several ambulance, fire and law enforcement agencies.

Windsor Police Chief Chris Spallino said the device exploded right when the teen ignited the vaporizer. Windsor officers, who are Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies, collected evidence following the incident because of the injuries, he said.

Spallino said his department is not conducting a criminal investigation and no other agency or regulators have contacted the department in relation to the incident.

Available in the United States since 2007, e-cigarettes vaporize a liquid solution using a small heating element powered by a lithium-ion battery, according to a 2014 report by the U.S. Fire Administration. The report estimated about 2.5 million Americans use the devices. They are designed for tobacco use but are also sometimes used to smoke hash oil.

No agency appears to be tracking injuries related to electronic cigarettes, which are approved and regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration only for therapeutic purposes. The FDA has issued cautions that the devices have not been fully studied.

But the federal fire administration analyzed 25 media reports of fires related to e-cigarettes between 2009 and 2014 and found that, of those cases, 8 percent of fires occurred during use and 80 percent occurred while the battery was being charged.

The incident in some ways mirrors explosions and fires sparked by hoverboards — including two recent fires in Santa Rosa and Petaluma. All the devices are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which are widely used in various electronics but can risk rupture depending on the device.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating the hoverboard-related fires. However, a commission official Thursday said that the agency does not regulate electronic cigarettes.

Spallino said the incident is concerning “on many levels.”

“If parents know their kids are using e-cigs, they should consider the explosion risk and the risk of having them develop a smoking habit,” Spallino said.

Plus, parents should be aware that the devices can be used to ingest concentrated marijuana, he said.

Spallino and Foreman said they do not know what substance the boy was consuming. He was with several friends at the time and there were adults in the house when the incident occurred, officials said.

E-cigarettes are increasingly popular among teenagers. According to a California Department of Public Health report, teen use of e-cigarettes in 2014 surpassed the use of traditional cigarettes for the first time.

Deputy Rod McMasters, a school resource officer in Windsor, said the devices are banned on school campuses but remain alarmingly popular among students.

“I have seen sixth-, fifth-graders in possession of these things,” McMasters said.

McMasters said that on Wednesday, school staff confiscated a vape pen and pocket knife from a student, who was told about the explosion in order to warn him about the dangers of the devices.

Foreman said that the incident offers a cautionary tale for people to not modify any product, particularly electronic cigarettes, and be wary of the quality.

“Our caution to the public is don’t use them,” Foreman said. “A lot of these are coming in from overseas and they’re safety and testing measures aren’t like here in the United States.”

Julie Johnson/The Press Democrat

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