A federal agency has warned vapers and other consumers to not buy or use individual 18650 lithium ion batteries, which they say pose unique safety hazards. While well-intentioned, the warning is overly broad, and draws some incorrect conclusions, at least for vapers.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a press release on Jan. 8, stating that “Rechargeable lithium cells without proper protection that are not installed in a device or as part of an integral battery…are potentially hazardous to consumers when handled, transported, stored, charged, or used to power devices.”
The agency says the primary risk is carrying loose, unprotected batteries in pockets, where they can “come into contact with metal objects, such as keys or loose change.”
“Once shorted,” the CPSC says, “loose cells can overheat and experience thermal runaway, igniting the cell’s internal materials and forcibly expelling burning contents, resulting in fires, explosions, serious injuries and even death.”
That is all true, and is an issue vapers have long been aware of. In fact, most vaping battery accidents, fires and explosions are caused by new or uneducated vapers improperly carrying loose cells. The problem can be easily avoided by carrying loose batteries only in a plastic or silicone case that prevents the metal poles of the battery from making contact with other metal objects (or each other) in a pocket or purse.
The CPSC says 18650s “are manufactured as industrial component parts of battery packs and are not intended for individual sale to consumers. However, they are being separated, rewrapped and sold as new consumer batteries, typically on the Internet.”
This is a real risk. You should never use a battery that has been removed (desoldered) from a pack and rewrapped. This is why experts recommend only buying well-known brands from reputable battery retailers. Never buy vaping batteries from eBay or other untrusted (and untraceable) sellers, who may be breaking up large battery packs and reselling the individual units. In addition to being sourced from separated battery packs, cheap rewrapped cells may be counterfeits or low-amp batteries prone to overheating under stress.
The CPSC also warns consumers that lithium ion batteries are dangerous when used in devices like vapes, because they “do not have protection circuits.” In fact, devices like modern regulated, variable-wattage mods have their own built-in protective circuitry and do not require the use of so-called “protected batteries” (which use a small fuse to prevent shorts). This may be a real issue in other products that use loose 18650 cells, like toys and e-bikes.
A serious risk to new or uneducated vapers is using 18650 batteries in unregulated mechanical mods, which have no protective circuitry and require the vaper to do exacting mathematical calculations in order to operate them safely. The two deaths that have occurred because of vaping battery accidents were both caused by mechanical mods. Such devices should only be used by vapers who are well-versed in Ohm’s Law.
The CPSC warning has already led to alarmist articles about the dangers of loose 18650 batteries. However, the bottom line for vapers is to always follow basic battery safety guidelines, and don’t take chances. For vapers with concerns about using individual cells, there are many mods available with built-in batteries, which avoid the potential issues of loose batteries altogether.