E-cigarettes are one of the hottest new devices.
Even celebrities have gotten in on the act. Katherine Heigl famously smoked one on The Late Show with David Letterman saying, “I now smoke the e-cigarette. Jenny McCarthy of The View endorses one of the many brands.
They’re advertised as a safer alternative to smoking – providing users with an odorless vapor filled with nicotine without all the ash, smoke and tar found in traditional cigarettes.
But some users are reporting that the devices can explode.
Elizabeth Wilkowski of Atlanta said she was cleaning her living room when her e-cigarette suddenly burst into flames while it was plugged into her computer to charge.
"I looked over and I see this flame shooting across my living room,” Wilkowski said. “The e-cigarette had exploded.”
She said charred scraps of metal burst out of her e-cigarette, leaving burn marks on her rug and wood floor. Even her wet cleaning rag wasn’t enough to extinguish the flames, she said.
"I threw the wet rag on it, but this rag did nothing to stop it,” she explained. “I had to throw water on it. The flames were so hot.”
Chris and Renae Leslie of Minneapolis said the same thing happened to them while they were sleeping.
"It sounded like an explosion -- like, big huge bang!" Renae said.
Renae leaped out of bed and said she saw flames shooting from the e-cigarette that was charging in her computer’s USB port.
Renae said she saw the e-cigarette then fly across the room and crash into the opposite wall. She said the flame from the burning device was about a foot high but that she was able to suffocate the flames with a nearby T-shirt.
Despite the damage to her carpet, Renae considers herself lucky.
“When I saw how quickly that flame burned our carpet in all of seconds, I definitely believe we would have lost our home,” she said.
These aren't the only incidents. INSIDE EDITION found more than a dozen reports from across the country. So what's going on? To find out, we asked electrical engineer Steve Fowler.
Fowler believes it's the rechargeable lithium-ion battery inside the e-cigarette that is exploding.
“The most common reason why these batteries are exploding is because they are overcharging,” Fowler said.
Many of the devices are manufactured in China and Fowler suspects some of the charging circuitry may be faulty, causing the battery to store more electricity than it can hold. When that happens?
“It's very much like a shotgun,” Fowler said.
A spokesman from a trade group representing e-cigarette manufacturers told INSIDE EDITION that the instances of explosions in e-cigarettes are extremely rare.
“I’ve heard of about 15 cases of exploding e-cigarettes which represents a small percentage of the total user experience,” said Thomas Kiklas of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.
He added that users should follow the manufacturer's charging instructions.
That’s no consolation to Wilkowski:
"I'm done with cigarettes. I'm done with the e-cigarettes and with tobacco products. I won't be smoking," she said.