NAPLES (CBSMiami) – One moment, 21-year-old Evan Spahlinger was smoking his e-cigarette at his home in Naples. The next, he was struggling to breathe and suffering extreme burns.
"They said he has internal and external burns from damage to his lungs," said Spahlinger's sister, Ema Richardson.
The e-cigarette blew up in his face, landing him in Kendall Regional Medical Center in serious condition.
This incident adds to the growing list of more than two dozen e-cigs exploding in several years, according to a U.S. Fire Administration study.
"It's a very rare occasion there are accidents," said "e-Vapors" store owner Esther Cabado.
Cabado told CBS4's Natalia Zea despite the rarity of explosions, there are things users can do to protect themselves.
She says putting in the correct batteries and maintaining them can prevent tragic accidents. Fire investigators believe the lithium ion battery was to blame in Evan's case.
"What's recommended is after four months, disregard them and purchase new ones," said Cabado.
She also said all other components should be appropriate for the e-cigarette.
"Purchase everything that goes with that device, and properly. Don't try to cut corners because it could actually save your life," said Cabado.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, nearly all of the accidents involving e-cigarettes happen while they're being charged. And they warn you should always charge according to the manufacturer's instructions and never vape while charging.
Anti-tobacco advocate Nancy Hernandez said the best way to protect yourself from harmful effects of e-cigarettes is to simply choose not to use them.
"E-cigarettes are much more dangerous than people think they are," she told Zea.
Hernandez believes accidents like this showcase a visible danger in a rapidly growing industry.
"The greatest danger about e-cigarettes is that it's an unregulated product. That's a lot of high heat activity around a very sensitive area, which is the face and the mouth," said Hernandez.
Evan is in a medically induced coma, undergoing several surgeries for severe burns. His sister says he swore off e-cigarettes before being transported.
"He said, 'I'm done, that's it.'"
Cabado believes e-cigs are safe if used properly.
"Go to a reputable shop and make sure you get a lot of knowledge before you start vaping," Cabado said.
To read the U.S. Fire Administration's study on e-cigarettes follow the link: www.usfa.fema.gov
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