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Ray Mattison
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Another Injury Caused by the Combination of Medical Oxygen and Smoking: Time for the Smokeless Cigarette?

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An excellent article by Tribune Reporter Leslie Parrilla highlights the safety risks of using medical oxygen in the home. The victim, a 55 year old resident of San Luis Obsipo County, was badly burned when she was changing an oxygen tank used to treat her asthma while smoking.

According to County/Cal Fire Investigator Andy Andersen.  “This is actually common,” Andersen said about people smoking while handling personal oxygen supplies. “This is what can happen.

Just yesterday a 63 year old Tennessee woman was burned to death by a fire caused by the combination of an ignition source and medical oxygen.

According to the FDA “Smoking anywhere near oxygen, even in the same room, can be extremely dangerous,” says Duane Sylvia, a consumer safety officer in CDER (The Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research).  This has caused the FDA to question the recreational use of oxygen, particular in oxygen bars: “It doesn’t matter what they label it,” says Melvin Szymanski, a consumer safety officer in the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). “At the other end of the hose is oxygen, and the individual that provides you with the nasal cannula and turns on the canister for your 20-minute supply is actually dispensing the prescription drug oxygen to you.

The risk of the industrial use of oxygen is well known – the Apollo 13 crew barely escaped after their craft was damaged by a faulty oxygen tank. However, the risk at home is obviously not conveyed nor appreciated given the number of accidents of this type.

The only practical answer, given the addictive nature of tobacco and the difficulties in quitting, is the use of the smokeless cigarette – a product which is feasible now but not cost effective.

Tobacco control advocates have been promoting this solution for some time – maybe that time has come.