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Electronic cigarette blows up in man's mouth

A Florida man is taken to hospital after an electronic cigarette explodes while he is smoking it. He loses his front teeth and has burns. Fire officials say the battery seems to have been the culprit.

What some e-cigarettes look like. There is no suggestion this type was the one involved in the explosion.
Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

From the age of dot, we're all told not to put gadgets in our mouths.

But along came electric toothbrushes--and then electronic cigarettes. Some will wonder how safe they might be after a 57-year-old Florida man was taken to hospital Monday night when his electronic smoke exploded while he was smoking it.

He ended up in an Alabama hospital, facing burns, the loss of part of his tongue and his front teeth.

Joseph Parker, division chief for the North Bay Fire Department, offered a graphic analogy to the Associated Press: "It was trying to hold a bottle rocket in your mouth when it went off. The battery flew out of the tube and set the closet on fire."

I feel sure that the "Jackass" people must have tried something along these lines, but how horrific that it should happen to someone who, by all accounts, was merely desperate to give up smoking.

The physical damage from the explosion--it apparently happened in the man's home office--comprised burned carpets and even smoldering pictures. The brand of cigarette hasn't been disclosed.

A health claim from one e-cigarette site. Again, there is no suggestion its products were involved here. Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

E-cigarettes have been around for a while. Their designers say they won't help you kick smoking, but will make the practice a little healthier.

The World Health Organization, however, doesn't seem too impressed with such a claim, nor, indeed, to any claims for e-cigarettes' safety.

The FDA, too, is skeptical, saying that "consumers currently have no way of knowing 1) whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use, or 2) about what types or concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals or what dose of nicotine they are inhaling when they use these products."

Indeed, in 2010, the FDA acted against five manufacturers of e-cigarettes, suggesting they were violating good manufacturing practice, as well as making health claims that couldn't be proven.

Still, this seems to be the first recorded incident of an e-cigarette exploding. But not the first gadget that has burned faces in apparently normal use. Cell phones, for example, have been the subject of several explosions, each time the suggestion being that the batteries were at fault.

Investigators will, no doubt, reveal a little more when they have analyzed the debris. For this man, however, whatever they find will surely be scant consolation for a frightening and scarring experience.