NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - E-cigarettes have become a very popular alternative to regular cigarettes.
While many are still arguing about the affects e-cigs can have on your health, it's being shown the smoking device itself can be very dangerous.
Christopher Richards said he took his first cigarette at the age of nine. By the time he was a teen, smoking cigarettes was a habit.
Fast forward two decades later, Richards said he was looking for a way to kick the habit, so about two years ago he picked up an e-cig.
Richards said he was able to get over the nicotine cravings but it was the hand-to-mouth habit that kept him reaching for the e-cig.
"I should have quit the e-cig because I had the nicotine down to nothing," explained Richards.
He and his wife have been running a cleaning business in town for the past six years. He said on the morning of Jan. 13, they were on the way to work when he went to take his first puff of the day.
"I remembered hearing a loud, almost like a bomb, and the car just started to fill up with smoke," Richards recalled. "I just started saying out loud, 'oh my God, oh my God,' and I grabbed a rag and put it on my face. As I was putting it on my face I realized below me there was just a pool of blood."
The e-cig had exploded in his face with such force, Richards said it broke off a piece of the steering wheel, gave him second and third degree burns on his chest and over 50 stitches in his nose. Worse, it cost him his left eye.
Richards said he had to be airlifted to a hospital in Chapel Hill where he spent the next nine days getting three different surgeries.
"The night before they took my eye out I was literally crawling up the walls in pain."
Richards said after that surgery he had to have his eye stitched shut for a month to let it heal.
"There is always that false hope there that, you know, what if they take the stitches out and I can see type thing," Richards recalled. "Reality really didn't set in until after they took the stitches out - it was pretty heavy."
A month and a half after the incident, Chris said even though things are different, he's not going to let it limit his ability.
"I have friends that are missing limbs and friends with cerebral palsy and they are not limited to anything," he said. "So losing my eye is not going to limit me to anything."
Chris does have a message for anyone who is about to take a quick hit from an e-cig.
"Just for people to be aware that there is harm in it as well, not everything is safe about it."
In Oct. 2014, the U.S. Fire Administration released results from a study on electronic cigarette fires and explosions.
The study said between 2009 and 2014, the U.S. had 25 incidents of e-cigarettes exploding
It stated lithium-ion batteries, which are used in electronic cigarettes, must be charged in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. The study said if using a power source that is not approved by the manufacturer, recharging the battery can result in an explosion and fire.
Of those 25 incidents that happened over the course of five years, 80 percent of the incidents happened while the electronic cigarette was being charged, and eight percent occurred when the electronic cigarette was being used.
For a closer look at their study click HERE.
Richards' friends and family are hosting a disc golf tournament at Good Hops Brewery in Carolina Beach on Saturday to help pay for his medical expenses.
Richards said registration starts at 8:30 a.m. and the tournament kicks off at 10:00 a.m. followed by a live reggae band at 3:00 p.m.