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NY hospital wrongfully bans electronic cigarettes after patient catches fire

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On April 22, 2014, Syracuse.com reported that St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center has banned e-cigarettes after one of their patients caught on fire. On March 22, a patient on oxygen was using an electronic cigarette in her hospital room when her face suddenly burst into flames. Although the fire department investigator has not confirmed the cause of the fire, the hospital is certain it was caused by the use of the electronic cigarette the patient had in her possession. The only problem is, there is very little evidence to support that claim.

Joe Galloway, a Syracuse Fire Department investigator, said the cause of the March 22 fire at St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center has not been determined yet, but he confirmed the patient had an electronic cigarette. He did not state what else the patient had in her possession that could have been the possible cause of the fire. It is unclear whether the patient might have had a cigarette lighter or some other device that could have caused the fire, and furthermore, it has not been determined that the hospital's system that the oxygen was hooked up to was not the cause.

According to the report, the patient was burned across her face from ear to ear. That is consistent with the pattern that an oxygen line runs when a patient is hooked up to it. Brandon Leonard was the first to respond to the incident when he was in the patient’s room helping her roommate and heard a loud pop and saw flames through the privacy curtain separating the two patient beds. When Leonard got to the other side of the room he saw flames around the patient’s nose and saw flames shooting out of the other end of the oxygen tube coming from the wall.

Jennie DeLee heard the commotion and went into the room. "The patient was standing at the side of the bed," she said. "I just saw black soot and charred skin. She was in shock." The patient was rushed to the burn unit with first and second degree burns, but she is now at home recovering.

Electronic cigarettes are made up of a rechargeable battery and a refillable tank that holds eliquid that when heated is converted into vapor. There have been very few reported cases of batteries exploding or causing fires, and when one of these cases is reported it is typically due to user error and not faulty equipment.

Although there is no proof that the electronic cigarette was the cause of the hospital patient catching fire, Dr. Sandra Sulik, the hospital's vice president of medical affairs, is convinced an e-cigarette sparked the fire. "There's no doubt about it," she said.

Jumping to the conclusion that the electronic cigarette was the cause of the fire before it is confirmed by the fire department investigator could present a risk for patients of the hospital. By making that assumption, hospital officials are likely not checking to make sure their equipment was not the cause of the incident. Either that, or they are using the highly controversial e-cigarette to cover up the fact that the fire was the hospital’s fault. After all, no hospital wants a multi-million dollar lawsuit on their hands.

Hospital officials have the right to ban electronic cigarette use in their hospital if they choose to. In this case however, e-cigarettes were wrongfully banned because the cause of the fire has yet to be determined. There are a lot of uncertainties about this story but some would say it is yet another attack on the electronic cigarette industry which is facing regulation by the FDA and enactment of laws on local and state levels.

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