Alexandria minors recharging vapes in a dangerous way

Ebacco's operating manager, Len Worthington, is so concerned about the issue, he brought it to the attention of administrators at Alexandria Area High School.

Vaping and e-cigarette products include nicotine, an addictive substance, as well as formaldehyde and acetone. (Getty images)

ALEXANDRIA — Ebacco has seen an uptick of minors attempting to purchase nicotine vape products since the beginning of the year. One parent informed the store's manager of another vaping danger — those who try to recharge the battery.

Len Worthington, Ebacco's operating manager, has been cracking down on minors purchasing nicotine products after one of his employees failed a compliance check last fall. It was the business's first failure since 2018. The employee was let go the next day.

"There is no reason on God's green earth that you should ever be making money off of selling to minors," said Worthington.

Worthington's due diligence was starting to pay off before the new year. He started to notice fewer and fewer minors attempting to buy from Ebacco. But, since the beginning of the year, he has started to see an uptick in minors once again attempting to purchase from the store.

"In one week, I had nine kids come in the door. I haven't seen a kid try and come in here in over a month. I'd run them all out the door," Worthington said. "They all kind of knew 'you don't go in there' because you just get in trouble."


Minors unable to legally purchase nicotine vapes are using spliced phone chargers to "jump start" non-rechargeable vapes. Sometimes the battery dies before all the internal vape juice is gone, the jump start gives them enough battery life to continue to vape.
Contributed photo / Len Worthington

Worthington noted that some underage want-to-be buyers became confrontational with the clerks. He attributes their aggressive behavior to nicotine withdrawals. Vapes or e-cigarettes are filled with nicotine and flavored "juice" sweetened by sugar to make the vapor more desirable. Two highly addictive ingredients make a highly addictive product.

Worthington said a number of parents have come into the store to express their concerns about the children and vapes. He assured them that Ebacco takes selling to minors very seriously and he will not allow that to happen.

One of the parents informed Worthington of another dangerous aspect of vaping. Her daughter was disassembling non-rechargeable vapes, cutting up cell phone chargers and using the exposed positive and negative wires to "jump-start" the vape's battery so she could use up any residual vape juice.

Sometimes the battery of disposable vapes die before all the juice is gone. While some companies have produced disposable vapes to be rechargeable to resolve the issue, others have not, which has led to these dangerous do-it-yourself charging methods. Often, the vapes that are being taken apart are the ones with the highest amount of nicotine and sugar — the most addictive.

The daughter of the concerned parent said she learned how to charge the vapes from an older student at Alexandria Area High School but there are many tutorials online. A website dedicated to "teaching anyone in the world how to do anything" published an article about how to recharge various vapes. From rechargeable to disposable. When the article got to the topic of charging disposable vapes, it issued a clear warning. "A non-rechargeable vape is not meant to be recharged. Attempting to recharge the battery may result in electric shock, overheating, and burning. The battery could also explode."

Worthington was also informed by the same parent about another student from AAHS who allegedly burned a hole in his comforter while attempting to charge a non-rechargeable vape.

Vapes are powered by lithium-ion batteries. These types of batteries, while rare, have tendencies to explode when it becomes too hot. The flammable liquid inside the battery reacts with oxygen, causing it to combust.

"The key is in the name, 'non-rechargeable.' These batteries are not meant to take another flow of electricity into them," Worthington said. "They're trying to start up a battery again that is not meant to take that charge, which can result in the damn things blowing up."


Youths are charging "dead" vape batteries by splicing phone charging cords and attaching the positives and negatives together. The image shows the positive and negative cords of a vape battery.<br/>
Contributed photo / Len Worthington

Worthington warned that the metal and plastic of the vape could act as shrapnel and the corrosive battery acid could cause serious burns.

"If that happens, some kids are going to get maimed, if not worse," he added. "They're either going to kill themselves, burn the house down, electrocute themselves because they're screwing around with live wires. It's scary as all hell."

Worthington was so disturbed by the information that he met with the principal and vice principal of AAHS.

"They were horrified. Like truly shocked. They said they do their best to deal with it," he said of the school's administrators. "None of us want to hear of one of our children (getting hurt) because they are our children. We're one community, they're our children. No matter what way we look at this, we've got to take responsibility as a community for our youth."

Worthington said the school plans to address the student body and inform them of the dangers of vaping, especially the recharging practices.

While it is rare that vapes explode, it isn't impossible. In 2019, the New York Times reported that a 17-year-old boy's vape exploded while in use. He lost multiple teeth and broke his jaw.

According to a 2017 report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 195 vape fire and explosion incidents were reported nationwide from January 2009 to Dec. 31, 2016. A total of 61 incidents occurred when the vape device was in the user's pocket. Sixty incidents occurred while the device was in use and 48 incidents occurred while the device was charging. Eighteen incidents occurred while the device was stored. Seven incidents didn't indicate whether the vape was in use, stored or being charged and one incident occurred during transportation on a cargo aircraft.

Another report from the British Medical Journal states an estimated 2,035 e-cigarette explosion and burn injuries were presented to U.S. emergency departments from 2015 to 2017.


No deaths were reported during FEMA's study period, however, in 2019 CNN reported , "a Texas man died of a massive stroke after the e-cigarette he was using exploded and tore his carotid artery." The previous year CNN also reported on a Florida man, Tallmadge D’Elia, 38, who was "found dead after a fire alarm went off." The article stated that the autopsy report concluded that D'Elia's death was the result of a projectile wound to the head that came from his vape device.

"For me, there are two issues. We've got the issue of kids learning how to (recharge non-rechargeable vapes) and not realizing the severity of what they're doing... But then we've got the other aspect where companies here locally, have blatantly ignored what needs to be done to keep our children safe. Putting their own greed above the welfare of our community," Worthington said. "It's bloody reprehensible."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ha s tips to avoid exploding vape batteries:

  • Use vape devices with safety features such as firing button locks, vent holes, and protection against overcharging.
  • Keep loose batteries in a case to prevent contact with metal objects such as coins, keys, or other metals in your pocket.
  • Never charge your vape device with a phone or tablet charger. Always use the charger that came with it.
  • Don’t charge your vape device overnight or leave it charging unattended.
  • Replace the batteries if they get damaged or wet.

These tips apply to reusable vapes. If a disposable vape dies, get rid of it. Do not risk tampering with the battery to get a few more "puffs."
FEMA's report concluded with, "E-cigarettes using lithium-ion batteries present a new and unique hazard to consumers. No other consumer product places a battery with a known explosion hazard such as this in such close proximity to vital areas of the human body."

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
What To Read Next
Get Local