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Battery Industry Begins Public Safety Campaign against Misuse of Li-Ion Cells in E-Cigarettes

Contact: Todd Irons
(202) 729-4155

Manufacturers Also Urge Retailers and Government Agencies to Help Prevent Misuse of 18650 Power Cells in E-cigarettes

WASHINGTON, DC, October 15, 2018 – Leading battery manufacturers and industry trade groups have begun a nationwide consumer awareness campaign called Be-cigarettesafe that cautions users of e-cigarette and vaping devices of the risks associated with the misuse of replaceable lithium-ion power cells.

Manufacturers of these cells, commonly known as “18650” cells, never intended them to be used as stand-alone power sources in e-cigarette and vaping devices or to be handled directly by consumers as loose, replaceable power sources. Doing so may put consumers’ safety at risk.

“Members of the battery industry have an important warning for consumers: Don’t use or handle stand-alone 18650 cells, period,” said George Kerchner, executive director of PRBA – The Rechargeable Battery Association. “Leading manufacturers have warned consumers for some time about the risks of handling and misusing stand-alone 18650 cells. We want to continue educating consumers, which is why we have joined together in support of the Be-cigarettesafe campaign. Consumers need to know if they install an 18650 cell to use in their e-cigarette or vaping device, then it may not be safe.”

18650 lithium-ion battery cells are not intended for use in vaping and e-cigarette devices – they were designed as a power source for products such as building tools (drills, saws, etc.), medical devices, laptop computers, lawnmowers and similar products. These powerful cells are intended to be handled only by specialized manufacturers who assemble them in enclosed, safety-circuit protected battery packs or equipment. Placing a stand-alone 18650 cell in and out of an e-cigarette or vaping device, or in and out of a charger, can damage the cell’s insulating wrapper, or cause other internal damage to the cell, leading to a “thermal runaway” event and emission of flames or gasses from the cell. But some unauthorized third-parties are selling stand-alone 18650 cells to consumers for use in e-cigarette and vaping devices. In some cases, the 18650 cells being offered for sale were previously used for other applications, or “re-wrapped” with inaccurate and misleading labels.

The Be-cigarettesafe campaign was conceived by cell manufacturers, and supported by PRBA, The Advanced Rechargeable & Lithium Batteries Association, Korea Battery Industry Association, and Battery Association of Japan. Be-cigarettesafe is one of several safety campaigns launched this year to educate consumers on the safety issues associated with the use, and misuse, of lithium ion batteries. The campaign includes a series of online and digital display and video advertisements appearing on various consumer-facing websites and social media pages. The ads direct users to visit the campaign’s website, Be-cigarettesafe.org, where consumers can find information about how to avoid handling and misusing lithium-ion cells and how to determine if an e-cigarette and vaping device have non-removable batteries with built-in protection circuitry. The campaign wants consumers to know that Underwriters Laboratories, a leading global independent safety science company (UL), has developed a safety standard for e-cigarettes, and soon consumers will be able to look for the “UL” mark on e-cigarette and vaping devices to verify that they comply with UL’s stringent safety standard.

Association members have taken various actions to keep their cells out of consumers’ hands. These steps include posting warnings on their products and websites to emphasize 18650 cells are not intended for use with e-cigarettes and vaping devices, working with third party purchasers to emphasize proper and improper uses, and sending cease and desist letters to retailers. Part of the campaign will include sending retailers and vape shops a copy of the PRBA’s “Safety Policy on the Use and Handling of Stand-alone Cylindrical Lithium ion Cells,” (http://www.prba.org/wp-content/uploads/PRBA-Policy-on-Use-of-Stand-Alone-Li-ion-Cells-18.pdf), and directing them to the campaign’s website for additional information.

Supporters of the campaign have talked with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about these issues and urge these agencies to help stop the use of stand-alone lithium-ion cells. “We need FDA’s help, supported by CPSC, to get stand-alone lithium-ion cells out of the hands of consumers by using the same enforcement tools FDA is using to address illegal marketing of e-cigs to minors, and that CPSC adopted to stop the distribution of poorly designed hoverboard products that were causing injuries and fires,” said Kerchner. “Leading cell manufacturer associations all support the need for FDA and CPSC assistance to help stop the misuse of lithium ion cells and we stand ready to continue working with these agencies to make this happen.”

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