Feb. 15, 2012— -- A Florida man is recovering at a local burn center after suffering severe injuries from an electric cigarette that exploded in his mouth.
Tom Holloway, 57, of Niceville, Fla., was smoking the e-cigarette Monday night when his wife heard an explosion from their study. She reportedly said it sounded like a firecracker had exploded in the house and she heard him scream, one of Holloway's neighbors told ABC News affiliate WCTI.
Chief Butch Parker of the North Bay Fire District responded to the call. He said a faulty battery inside the electric cigarette likely caused the accident. Parker described the explosion as if Holloway was holding a "bottle rocket in his mouth."
"I have never heard of or seen anything like this before," Parker told ABCNews.com.
Parker said there was no way to recognize the brand of e-cigarette Holloway was smoking, but the battery appeared to be rechargeable lithium because there was a recharging station in the study.
Holloway, a Vietnam veteran, photographer and father of three, reportedly stopped smoking two years ago and turned to e-cigarettes to kick the habit.
Parker said the explosion knocked out all Holloway's teeth and part of his tongue. The event also set fire to the room.
Electronic cigarettes have become a popular crutch for many who have quit smoking. The battery-operated smoking-cessation device simulates the act of tobacco smoking through physical sensation, appearance and even flavor.
E-cigarettes are currently not regulated by the FDA.
According to an FDA spokesperson, the government agency set forth its plans to develop a strategy to regulate additional categories of tobacco products in an April 2011 letter to stakeholders. In the Spring 2011 Unified Agenda (published in July), FDA announced its intent to issue a proposed rule deeming products meeting the definition of "tobacco product" to be subject to regulation by FDA under the Tobacco Control Act, which provides FDA with the authority to regulate certain categories of tobacco products, including cigarettes, tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco.
While the devices go unregulated, Americans who purchase e-cigarettes do so at their own risk, said Dr. Stephen Jay, professor of medicine and public health at Indiana University.
"These products, based on what we know and don't know, should be regulated now," said Jay. "There are no data regarding either their safety or effectiveness as an aid in tobacco-use cessation. Claims by manufacturers and distributors are just that - claims. The Internet is awash in pro-e-cigarette advertising [and] much of it is very misleading and aimed at vulnerable young people."
Dr. John Spangler, professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, agreed that the FDA should regulate these products.
"Anytime someone inhales a vapor of a drug administered by an electronic device, there should be strong evidence that the device and drug are safe," said Spangler. "I personally believe that the FDA should require safety studies on electronic cigarettes and should regulate their use."
Jay said he does not recommend electronic cigarettes to his patients because there are no published, peer-reviewed scientific data supporting their safety and efficacy. And because of this, the impact of these devices on the health of the public is unknown.
"First, we have no idea of what specific chemicals are contained in these products or the safety of components of e-cigs, including the batteries," said Jay.
There is some data that has suggested using e-cigarettes will make "real" smoking more appealing to youth.
There is "the gateway problem and the dual-use problem," said Jay. "Will e-cigarettes lead to decreased interest in quitting for youth and adults? We have no data that answers these basic questions."
Spangler, on the other hand, neither recommends nor discourages the use of these devices for his patients.
"I tell patients that some people have found them helpful to quit smoking, but they are not regulated for safety or purity standards by anyone," said Spangler. "I also mention that impurities such as antifreeze have been found in some samples. Then I let the patient decide."