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Navy weighs e-cigarette ban amid safety concerns

Sailors vaping on ships and bases may soon be a thing of the past.

A string of incidents since last year has prompted Navy safety officials to recommend putting the e-smoking lamp out fleetwide.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat up a nicotine liquid and deliver it to the user as a flavored vapor. In an Aug. 11 memo, the Naval Safety Center detailed growing safety concerns as exploding batteries in the devices have led to a dozen injuries since 2015.

When the lithium-ion batteries overheat, the memo says, the seal surrounding them can fail and turn an e-cigarette into a small bomb.

"The Naval Safety Center concludes that these devices pose a significant and unacceptable risk to Navy personnel, facilities, submarines, ships, vessels and aircraft," the memo reads, going on to recommend a full ban of the products on Navy property.

The report notes that while laptops and cellphones also run on lithium-ion batteries, extensive testing has shown that they don't tend to explode when they fail.

The Navy is taking a hard look at the recommendation, which would ultimately have to be implemented by Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet.

"Leadership is reviewing the Naval Safety Center's recommendation regarding e-cigarettes, weighing both the safety and health-related risks," said Navy spokeswoman Lt. Marycate Walsh. 

The Safety Center recorded 12 incidents between October and May and allowed that there are probably more incidents that were not reported. There were no incidents recorded before October 2015, the memo said.

Seven of the incidents occurred on Navy ships and at least two required the use of shipboard firefighting equipment to extinguish fires. Eight of the incidents occurred while the e-cigarette was in a sailor's pocket, resulting in first- and second-degree burns.

Two sailors had their e-cigarettes blow up in their mouths, resulting in facial and dental injuries. All told, e-cigarettes have resulted in three days of hospitalization and more than 150 days of reduced duties for sailors, the report said.

Naval Sea Systems Command has issued a partial ban on the lithium-ion batteries at the center of the report. The Safety Center is recommending that the ban be extended to e-cigarettes.  

"It is strongly recommended that action be taken to prohibit these devices from use, transport, or storage on Navy facilities, submarines, ships, vessels, and aircraft," the memo reads. "In conjunction with these efforts, it is recommended that the Navy launch a dedicated safety campaign to inform service members about the potential danger of these products."

The problem of exploding e-cigarettes hasn't been limited to the Navy. The report notes that the injury and failure statistics from the civilian sector track with what the Navy is seeing in its data.

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