This editorial is part of an ongoing series on electronic cigarettes and vaping. The views expressed are purely the opinion of the author, and do not represent those of Bedford Slims in any way.
Andrew Hall, a 30-year-old car salesman from Pocatello, Idaho, was severely injured this week when his vaping rig exploded in his mouth. According to a series of posts on Hall's Facebook page, he was standing in his bathroom getting ready for work when it happened. The explosion blasted out both ends of the vape, blowing the corner his sink counter off and gruesomely ripping searing his cheek and lips. Hall lost seven teeth and sustained second-degree burns on his face.
Hall's posts about his injury started to go viral, and the story got picked up by the press. Of course, journalism about viral Facebook posts isn't always the most thorough or informative. The Fox News write-up, for example, calls Hall an "Iowa man" in the headline before correctly stating that he's from Idaho in the first sentence of the story. Generally the online stories sensationalized his misfortune, emphasizing the graphic photos he had shared of his injuries.
Hall comes across as an earnest, well-meaning guy in his Facebook posts. He says that he's sharing the photos as a cautionary tale that he hopes will help keep other people from also getting hurt. But because this is the internet, an endless stream of negative comments were directed at Hall in comment sections, vaping forums and on the Facebook posts themselves. Whether people were pro- or anti-vaping, they basically all thought him an idiot who almost got himself killed.
But details in Hall's posts give a little more insight into what happened. He initially said that his rig was an RDA twisted onto LG HG2s batteries that he had the vape shop assemble for him. But then about 12 hours later, he edited the post with a cryptic clarification: "I did revise this to state clearly that the laws changed yes, it was easier for me to have them build my coils. I did it after the laws changed and did everything myself. I never had any issues with over heating or concerns until the unfortunate [sic] happened."
So what "law change" could Hall be talking about? A look at recent news stories reveals that Idaho state legislators are currently considering new regulations on vaping, though they haven't passed or taken effect. The county did pass a vaping law, but that was over two years ago. It may actually have had something to do with the hostility of the local Pocatello Police Department, which has a history of cracking down on the city's vape shops by doing random checks and running stings. Additionally, this past summer an area 16-year-old happen to have a vaping rig explode across his foot. After that incident, a local vape shop owner told the Idaho State Journal that "her store does not modify any vaping devices and she recommends against it."
Now I'm just speculating here (because I don't want to make phone calls to some random people in Idaho) but here's what I think happened...
It seems likely to me that the cops in Pocatello, a small college town, have taken the view that vaping is a stupid, dangerous thing that teenagers have started doing in recent years. So they keep a close eye on all the city's vape shops. After the 16-year-old was maimed, Hall's usual vape store stopped assembling vape for him to avoid getting in trouble. Hall, not realizing that his unregulated mod was unsafe, ended up in a worst case scenario. He put it together himself, overcharged it, and well...you know the rest.
Hall's story can be seen as a lesson about personal responsibility, but it's also very much about the unintended consequences of heavy-handed policing. Obviously the fine people of Pocatello deserve to be free from the fear of being injured in a vape explosion, but that's not what the government has actually achieved. Instead they prevented the local experts at the vape shops from helping Hall assemble his mod rig safely. I'm not saying it's the cops' fault he got hurt. At the same time, it is their job to keep the community safe, and the only way they could seem to do that was to hassle small businesses they didn't like.
It would better if the police had made an effort to educate the citizens of Pocatello instead. I mean how many people could live in that town? Fifty thousand? Just put up some signs that say "MOD RIGS NOT FOR NUBES." Not everything's about writing a ticket.