Update, April 24, 2014: On Thursday, the FDA proposed regulating e-cigarettes, banning the sale of the devices to Americans under 18 and requiring makers of e-cigarettes to to disclose their ingredients to the agency. But a spokesperson for the FDA tells Mother Jones that the proposed rule does not cover "accessories of proposed deemed tobacco products," which includes batteries and chargers that have been blamed for e-cigarette explosions. The FDA is still seeking comment on whether it might include these products under its regulatory umbrella.
Last week, an 18-year-old bartender in North Yorkshire, England, was serving drinks when a colleague's electronic cigarette exploded, setting the bartender's dress on fire. This was not the first reported incident of an e-cigarette exploding—over the past few years, there have been more than a dozen similar reports.
Specifically, it's e-cigarettes' lithium-ion batteries that combust. These batteries are also found in laptops and cellphones. But with e-cigarettes, the batteries are especially prone to overheating because smokers use incompatible chargers, overcharge the e-cigarettes, or don't take sufficient safety precautions. For example, many e-cigarettes are made to plug into a USB port, which smokers may take to mean the devices can be safely charged with a computer or iPad charger. But if left too long in a common USB port, some e-cigarette batteries can fry.
The industry acknowledges that explosions are a possibility. "I'm aware of 10 failures in the last year," Thomas Kiklas, who represents the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, told NBC Chicago last October. "When you charge them, they are 99.9 percent safe, but occasionally there will be failures."
The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees tobacco products, does not currently regulate e-cigarettes. An FDA spokesperson says the agency is working to change that.
Here is a brief history of notable e-cigarette explosions and fires:
Niceville, Florida, February 2012
A 57-year-old Vietnam veteran was smoking an e-cigarette when it exploded in his face, knocking out his teeth and part of his tongue, according to ABC News. A fire chief told the news outlet that the accident was most likely caused by a faulty lithium battery, which exploded like a "bottle rocket."
Muskogee, Oklahoma, April 2012
Shona Bear Clark bought an NJOY e-cigarette from Walmart to help her cut back on smoking half a pack a day. Clark says it exploded when she tried to remove it from its package. "It was as loud as firing a gun, but a gun fired right in your face," she recalled.
Corona, California, March 2013
Jennifer Ries and her husband, Xavier, were driving to the airport, with their VapCigs e-cig charging in the car. "I looked around and I saw the battery to the [e-cigarette] dripping," she told CBS Los Angeles. "I went to unscrew it and the battery started shooting fire toward me and then exploded and shot the metal pieces onto my lap…A blowtorch type of fire and then an explosion." Ries suffered second-degree burns, and the the couple later sued the e-cig manufacturer.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 2013
Kyle Czeschin's e-cig was plugged into his laptop. Guess what happened next? "Everything was on fire, my laptop was on fire, my lamp was on fire, the shades," he told News On 6.
Sherman, Texas, July 2013
Wes Sloan wanted to kick his habit, so bought what he assumed would be a safer, electric alternative to cigarettes. "The battery was into about a two-hour charge and it exploded and shot across the room like a Roman candle," he said. Sloan was charging the e-cig in the USB port of a Macbook. He says he suffered second- and third-degree burns, and that he and his wife, Cathy, were treated for smoke inhalation.
Mount Pleasant, Utah, September 2013
A Utah mom was charging her e-cigarette in her car when she said there was "a big bang, and kind of a flash, [and] smoke everywhere," according to Fox 13 News. The e-cigarette reportedly released a hot copper coil that landed in her son's car seat, burning the boy. The mom was finally able to put the fire out with an iced coffee. A fire marshal told the news outlet that the mom's charger was standard and factory-issued, and it was a "catastrophic failure of the device." He also noted this was the second e-cigarette explosion he'd investigated recently in the region.
Atlanta, September 2013
A woman in Grant Park plugged her e-cigarette into her computer to charge it, according to WSB-TV Atlanta. Fortunately, she was home when she says it began to shoot four-foot flames across the living room. (A screenshot in the above link shows the rag that the woman used to unplug the e-cigarette as it was burning.) "If I hadn't had been home, I would have lost my dogs, I would have lost my cats, I would have lost my house," she told the news station.
La Crosse, Wisconsin, September 2013
The La Crosse Fire Department explains how they're learning to deal with e-cig fires:
Blaine, Minnesota, October 2013
A man was charging his e-cigarette through his computer when his wife noticed that it was "sparking like a fountain firework," according to KMSP Fox 9. The device then "shot out like a missile" from the computer, she said. The owner of a nearby e-cigarette business told the news outlet that the battery didn't have overcharge protection, and that's likely why it overheated.
Kootenai County, Idaho, November 2013
An e-cigarette started a fire in an Idaho household's living room while the family of four slept. The device, which was charging through a laptop, overheated and exploded. "If that smoke alarm didn't go off, none of us would have woken up, you know, none of us would have been able to get to the door, 'cause it would have been blocked by the flames and we would have all died," the son said.
Queen Creek, Arizona, November 2013
Just four days after Kyler Lawson bought his Crown Seven Gladiator e-cigarette, it exploded while charging. "It shot out like a bullet, hit the window, dropped from the window to the carpet," he said. "Caught the carpet on fire…If you're going to charge it, be there. Be present when you're charging it because you never know what can happen."
Eugene, Oregon, November 2013
Judy Timmons had been charging her e-cig in her car for two hours when it exploded. "I'm just glad my grandkids weren't in the backseat because it could have exploded at any time," she said. "It had enough power and momentum to shoot all the way to the backseat," Larry, her husband, said.
A man in Colorado Springs was charging his e-cigarette when it exploded, setting his bed on fire, according to KRDO NewsChannel 13. He used a blanket to smother the flames, suffering burns on his body and face. The manufacturer of "Foos" e-cigarettes told the news outlet that this was the first time he'd heard of their products malfunctioning. The man said that nonetheless, "I'm back on normal cigarettes now."
Sneads Ferry, North Carolina, January 2014
A North Carolina man who spent over 20 years working as a firefighter was injured after his e-cigarette exploded in his face. He described the incident to the Jacksonville Daily News as feeling like "a bunch of hot oil hit my face." After spending the night in the hospital, the newspaper reported that he continues to suffer from the incident: "The bottom of his left eyeball is sensitive to light, hard to see out of, and will need to be looked at by an optometrist."
Springfield, Missouri, January 2014
Last Christmas Eve, Chantz Mondragon was sitting in bed with his wife when his e-cig overheated and burst into flames. The device was charging via a USB port on his laptop. He described the explosion as "a searing hot blinding light like a magnesium sparkler, [like] whenever you see a person welding." Mondragon also said the fire burned through his bed, and caused second-degree burns on his leg and foot.
North Yorkshire, England, April, 2014
Eighteen-year-old Laura Baty was serving a customer at the Buck Inn Hotel when her coworker's charging e-cigarette exploded behind the bar. "I started crying hysterically and my arm was all black," she told the Press. "My dress caught on fire as I ran away, and I just didn't know what was happening."
London, April 2014
A woman who used an incompatible charger to charge her e-cigarette caused a major fire that took about 40 minutes to get under control, according to the London Evening Standard. A member of the London Fire Brigade told the paper that, "As with all rechargeable electrical equipment, it's vitally important that people use the correct type of charger for their e-cigs to prevent fires which can be serious and could even result in death."
It's no secret that Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) don't get along. Last month, Issa cut off Cummings' microphone at a hearing on the IRS scandal. Their latest spat came last week, when Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to Cummings, the senior Democrat on the committee, accusing him of secretly scheming with the IRS to target True the Vote, a conservative organization. But in his argument against Cummings, Issa's grasping at straws.
The oversight committee has been investigating whether the IRS purposefully targeted conservative nonprofit groups. GOPers have fixated on the investigation, despite the fact that documents have shown the IRS scrutinized progressive groups as well. And last Thursday, House Republicans voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt for refusing to testify about her role in the IRS matter. One of the groups that Issa is concerned may have been unfairly targeted is True the Vote, an organization whose mission is to root out voter fraud. At least as early as February 2012, the IRS was requesting information from True the Vote about its activities, including any for-profit organizations it was associated with. A few months later, in August, Cummings contacted the IRS to notify the agency that his own staff was planning to investigate the organization. On October 4, 2012, his office sent the first of a series of letters to True the Vote requesting information about its activities. Cummings was concerned that the group was engaging in voter intimidation and partisan activities, such as making a $5,000 donation to the Republican State Leadership Committee. Cummings asked the IRS for "publicly available information" about the group in January 2013.
Issa's main gripe is that Cummings sent questions to True the Vote that were similar to questions the IRS put to the organization. He says that although Cummings denied that his staff "might have been involved in putting True the Vote on the radar screen of some of these federal agencies," his communications indicate otherwise. Issa also claims that Cummings didn't adequately inform the committee of his interactions with the IRS.
But according to the timeline in Issa's own letter, Cummings didn't trigger the IRS investigation into True the Vote. True the Vote was on the agency's radar screen months before Cummings reached out to the IRS. Additionally, Issa was aware that Cummings was looking into True the Vote. Cummings CCed Issa on the October 2012 letters he sent to the group and posted them on his website. In a scathing reply to Issa last week, Cummings wrote: "According to your logic, simply requesting access to public information is somehow evidence of a nefarious conspiracy."
It's certainly not unusual for lawmakers to request publicly available information from government agencies. In fact, Issa sent a sharply worded letter to the IRS in August 2009 requesting documents related to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the now defunct progressive organization. He specifically wanted to ensure that ACORN's political contributions "satisfy federal and state campaign finance laws" and was concerned the nonprofit was engaging in partisanship. About a month after Issa sent his letter, ACORN employees were caught on tape advising conservative activists who were posing as a prostitute and a pimp on how to evade the IRS. ACORN then lost funding from a number of federal sources. Issa quickly took credit for these developments.
In a 2010 radio interview, Frazier Glenn Miller, the man suspected of killing three people Sunday at a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement center in Kansas, said he was interested in the tea party, voiced support for then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and spoke approvingly of Ron Paul, the Texas Republican congressman and presidential candidate. In late April 2010, Miller, a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon, was a guest on The David Pakman Show, a nationally syndicated left-of-center radio and television program. At the time, Miller was running for US Senate as an independent in his home state of Missouri with the slogan "It's the Jews, Stupid," and Pakman pressed Miller on his extreme views.
During the interview, Miller was unabashed about his anti-Semitic positions. When asked whether he thought the United States would be better off if Hitler had succeeded, Miller responded, "Absolutely, the whole world would…Hitler would have created a paradise on Earth, particularly for white people. But he would have been fair to other people as well." He added, "Germans are blamed collectively because of the alleged so-called Holocaust."
Not surprisingly, Miller denigrated most American politicians, but cited one positively: "If I had my way [all US senators] would be in jail right now for treason, if not hung from a sturdy oak tree…Ron Paul is the only independent politician, representative in Washington." He also spoke highly of another conservative: "Patrick Buchanan, he's a great man, he's a great historian, he's one of the very few journalists who has the courage to speak out against Jewish domination in the country." Miller called Howard Stern "a Jew liar." When asked whether he supported the tea party, Miller replied, "The school's still out on them. They're a new movement. I'm watching them closely. I suspect, however, they'll be infiltrated by the Jews and therefore led into defeat."
During the interview, Pakman asked Miller whom he would "elect, deport, and waterboard"—given the choices of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and former Fed chair Alan Greenspan. Miller answered, "I like Obama more than the other two, by far." He chose to elect Obama, deport Greenspan, and waterboard Biden. Miller said, "I have a great deal of admiration [for] Louis Farrakhan," and he called Ahmadinejad "a great man" because he "has guts and he tells the truth about the Jews."
"I'm a convicted felon and I'm proud of it," Miller boasted, noting that he "was convicted of declaring war on the federal government and possession of illegal weapons." He added that Jews "were responsible for my conviction that prompted me to go underground and declare war…Morris Dees mainly, he's a Jew that runs the Southern Poverty Law Center." (The SPLC monitors hate groups.)
In November 2013, Pakman had an exchange of emails with Miller in which Miller noted that he was "close friends" with Craig Cobb, a white supremacist who had attempted to form an all-white town in Leith, North Dakota. According to Miller, the two had worked together "on several White Nationalist projects, including the Aryan Alternative newspaper." Referring to the recent news that a DNA test indicated that Cobb had African ancestry, Miller told Pakman, "I can't believe a man as intelligent as you, actually believes Craig Cobb is an octoroon. Surely, you know it's just another jewsmedia fraud."
Religious conservatives are urging the GOP to scratch Sin City off its list of potential locations for the 2016 Republican National Convention,the Dallas Morning News reports. According to the paper, advocates are concerned that Las Vegas' reputation as a gambling and prostitution haven will discourage conservatives from attending the event and that the city is a "trap waiting to ensnare" convention attendees.
"The GOP is supposedly interested in reaching out to conservatives and evangelicals. Maybe that’s just a front, but if they really mean it this is not the way to do it," James Dobson, founder of Family Talk, a Christian radio show that broadcasts across the United States, told the paper. "Even though Vegas has tried to shore itself up and call itself family-friendly, it’s still a metaphor for decadence. There's still 64 pages of escort services in the yellow pages."
Dobson, along with leaders of the American Family Association, Eagle Forum, the Traditional Values Coalition, and Family-PAC sent a letter to Republican chairman Reince Priebus warning him to choose another destination.
Las Vegas is considered a frontrunner for the 2016 convention. Other cities under consideration are Dallas, Denver, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Kansas City, Missouri. The Nevada city has never hosted a national political convention for either Democrats or Republicans, but it's been aggressively courting the GOP. The city's promotional video for the convention does not feature any gambling. Instead, it emphasizes Las Vegas' hotels, sunshine, rock climbing, proximity to the Hoover Dam, NASCAR, places of worship, and the "growing Asian population." The video pans to Disney's logo.
Las Vegas has a strong lobbying campaign behind it. The team includes casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who spent over $98 million on GOP candidates in 2012, resort businessman Stephen Wynn, and Washington political strategists, according to the New York Times. Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition, told TheDallas Morning News that while she supports Adelson, she fears that with all of the escorts and prostitutes available in the Las Vegas area, she "can see all the setups that are going to take place."
Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative blog RedState.com, also expressed concern about the GOP choosing Las Vegas. "Good Christian delegates getting drunk, gambling, stuffing dollar bills in strippers' g-strings, etc. will be the toast of not just MSNBC, but the front page of the New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, the Huffington Post, and more." he wrote. Not to mention, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) might wake up with a tiger in his bathroom.
Update: The NSA knew about the Heartbleed bug for at least two years and actively exploited it in order to gather intelligence, Bloomberg reported on Friday. This means that under the pretense of protecting Americans, the NSA intentionally didn't notify millions of Americans that they were vulnerable to identity theft. Go read that book, now.
On Tuesday, news broke that the safeguard many websites use to protect sensitive information on the internet has had a major security flaw for about two years. These sites use a security system called OpenSSL to encrypt data like content, passwords, and Social Security numbers. But thanks to a small coding error in a popular version of OpenSSL, nicknamed "Heartbleed," hackers can potentially steal sensitive data from vulnerable websites. Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist at FireEye, a network security company, notes that there's no evidence that malicious hackers have exploited the flaw yet. But the secrecy-minded Tor Project, which enables anonymous internet browsing, nevertheless recommended on Monday that, "If you need strong anonymity or privacy on the internet, you might want to stay away from the internet entirely for the next few days while things settle." Here are seven reasons why you might want to stop looking at cat videos right now:
1. Lots of popular websites have the security problem.
According to the New York Times, up to two-thirds of sites on the internet rely on OpenSSL. A user on Github, an open-source coding site, compiled a list of sites that were allegedly vulnerable after a test was conducted on Tuesday. The Github list included Yahoo, Flickr, OkCupid, and Eventbrite, among dozens of other companies. (Some may have since updated their security.) Facebook and Google both released statements confirming they are not affected by the flaw. If you'd like to test a specific site to see whether it's could be exploited—although this doesn't meant that it has—go here.
2. Your most sensitive personal information is at risk.
When websites use SSL, that's a good thing. The security layer is deployed during sensitive transactions to protect data like bank details, social security numbers, and passwords. Runa Sandvik, a staff technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), says that she's heard, "this is even worse than if SSL wasn't used at all, because it's used to protect sensitive information. A site that isn't protected at all, you might not submit sensitive information there in the first place." The good news is, some security researchers are reporting that hackers may not be able to get the private keys to an entire website's content. The bad news is, the flaw is still "a great way to steal passwords from recent logins" according to researchers at Errata Security.
3. Canada is freaking out.
The Canada Revenue Agency announced on Wednesday that it is temporarily shutting down its online services as a result of the Heartbleed bug. The moves come mere weeks before Canadians are expected to file their taxes. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service said in a statement Wednesday that its website has not been affected by the bug.
4. Right now, hackers are racing to get at that information.
"With these things, you can practically hear the shotgun go off. We're in a race now between the attackers and the defenders, to see how quickly attackers can build viable attacks, and how quickly the defenders can put out their defenses," says Christopher Budd, a spokesperson for Trend Micro, a Japanese security software company. He notes that while exploiting the vulnerability right now is fairly difficult, as hackers share information, people could build tool kits and it will become significantly easier.
5. You won't necessarily know if your information has been hacked.
“It’s a serious bug in that it doesn’t leave any trace,” David Chartier, chief executive at Codenomicon, told the New York Times. “Bad guys can access the memory on a machine and take encryption keys, usernames, passwords, valuable intellectual property, and there’s no trace they’ve been there.”
6. It won't be easy for websites to fix the problem.
Budd says fixing the problem is "simple, but not easy." While there is a fixed OpenSSL version that websites can download, it can take time to roll out the new program across a website's entire infrastructure. Budd notes that companies will have to weigh the risk of an attack against the potential that the entire website might come crashing down if a new coding error is introduced. That might dissuade companies from acting quickly. Additionally, after a website installs the new "fix," it needs to update its SSL certificate, a process that can take a little time. Jeremy Gillula, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes that even if a website has downloaded the fix, if it hasn't updated its certificates, it "could still be subject to a man-in-the-middle-attack on its users."
7. Changing your passwords right away isn't necessarily going to help you.
After news of Heartbleed broke, you probably got a lot emails from people telling you to change your passwords. Not so fast, experts say. If you change your password prior to a site getting rid of the bad SSL, your new password could be just as vulnerable as your old one. Sandvik from CDT says, "I'm in the same situation as everyone else. I would look for statements issued by companies before logging in, and if there is no statement, contact them and ask them. Also test their website." Budd advises, "This is one of those situations where the best thing people can do is stick to best practices, don't panic, and wait to hear information from people to know what's going on. If you get instructions, follow them."