A news story is making the rounds about carelessly discarded spent e-cig cartridges causing motorists some trouble by puncturing their tires. This story seems to be presented as another example of the “damage” e-cigs can cause, from the perspective of the news-hungry media, at least, but it’s about as powerful an argument as saying they could cause choking if somebody decided to try to swallow a cartridge whole.
The story is the sort of thing you could have assumed would happen without actually having seen a news story about it. Cartridges are metallic, and when vapers throw spent cartridges out of their car window, there is an obvious risk that they may cause damage to car tires. According to the manager of Belle Tire in Michigan, Tony Dewildt, “We have seen usually one or two a week puncturing the tire … They're all made out of metal, so when they slash a tire, they usually leave a pretty big gash in it.”
NBC Montana quotes Cary Lee, a vape-store owner from Michigan, as saying, “There’s no good way to get rid of it, so that’s one of the negatives of our product right there.” According to reports, the gashes caused by discarded cartridges are typically not repairable.
Stations running the video-version of the story spend a little bit of time looking at some car-crushed cartridges, and frankly, they just look the same but flatter. Interestingly, there were no images of tires damaged by e-cigarettes in the news reporting.
Can E-Cig Cartridges Puncture Car Tires?
The first issue with this story is that the standard cartridge doesn’t really seem like such a hazard to tires, compared with say, a nail or a partially-shredded tin can. They’re cylindrical, relatively easily malleable and (contrary to reports) do not typically contain sharp edges. So are they really tire-murderers in disguise?
I tested this notion by heading outside and smashing the hell out of a couple of cartridges with a hammer, and my results look much like the images from the news reporting – the cartridges are squashed, but they’ve hardly turned into a tire-destroying mess of shrapnel or magically developed sharp edges.
Given that they’re obviously unlikely to land stood directly upwards if they’re tossed to the ground carelessly, I tested the first (an expired Green Smoke cartridge) laying flat on the ground. After bashing and bashing and bashing, the plastic tip flew off and the battery connection side flattened down, but there was a distinct lack of sharp edges. I even stood it up and purposefully tried to create sharp areas, but to no avail. The only somewhat sharp corner barely makes a mark when you run it across the back of your hand.
For the next cartridge (from 777 eCigs), I stood it on end and set at attacking the connection side. After a few strong hits directly on the end, a bit of metal did tear away, although it was only around 1/5 of an inch long. So what did I learn? Well, it appears that in the most likely scenario – a cartridge laying flat on the ground being rolled over by a car – there is little real risk. Based on the test and the lack of clear evidence in the reports, even if you ran over a cartridge, chances are your tires would be OK. It just seems extremely unlikely they’d develop a big enough sharp edge to do serious damage.
Throw Them Away!
This isn’t intended to allege that the reports are completely untrue – I’m sure that it is very possible for a carelessly discarded e-cig cartridge to slash a tire – but perhaps just a little overblown. Effectively, it comes down to the word of a tire store owner, who was apparently unable to document the damage the cartridges have done to any of these frequently-encountered tires. The notion that most of these are irreparable is on even shakier ground. After I ran over a discarded screw, my tire was able to be repaired, and it’s hard to see how a cartridge could be so much worse. More importantly, almost anything metallic has the potential to be just as dangerous to tires, so even in the worst-case scenario e-cigs are no more of a hazard to vehicles than a whole host of other everyday items.
Regardless of all of these issues, it shouldn’t be necessary to say that you should throw your cartridges in the trash when they’re finished. It isn’t hard, and it’s clear that 99 percent of vapers would do just that, but given the potential for damage it should be re-stated. Even if it isn’t a car, would you want some poor family pet to chew a cartridge lying on the sidewalk and swallow some residual nicotine? Or a child? Of course you wouldn’t. Dispose of your spent cartridges properly, and the media will have to find its pointless stories somewhere else in future. They might even have to do some actual journalism.