A smoker who 'nearly died' after accidentally sucking part of his e-cigarette into his lung was rushed to intensive care and had to have surgery to remove it.
Alan O'Brien, from Warrington in Cheshire, inhaled the small plastic mouthpiece and it became lodged deep in his windpipe.
Luckily he was able to keep breathing through the hole in the middle of it, but it made a whistling noise and could have killed him if it slipped.
Working alone as the assistant manager at a betting shop, Mr O'Brien called an ambulance and kept working until paramedics arrived.
He was then rushed into intensive care for surgery to remove the piece of plastic, and now says he will 'play it safe' and stick to cigarettes.
His surgeons plan to feature Mr O'Brien in medical journals following his unusual accident.
He said: 'I had two minutes before I had to start work so I think I was just trying to squeeze in a smoke.
'I went at it with a bit too much gusto and the mouth piece came off and went straight down my throat.
'I was choking. I couldn't breathe. Panic set in, as you can imagine.
'I didn't have another staff member coming in until half 12. It seemed like an age but I couldn't breathe at all for about 10 to 15 seconds.
'I finally grabbed a breath and I tried to sick it out, but I could feel it stuck.
'But then I was whistling as I was talking. I thought "I can't go on like this for long, it's ridiculous".'
Not realising the seriousness of the situation, Mr O'Brien continued working until paramedics arrived.
They rushed him to Warrington Hospital A&E but medics struggled to find the nozzle using X-ray scans because it was small and didn't show up clearly.
They asked if he could have coughed it back up but Mr O'Brien was certain the plastic – part of a menthol SMOK baby e-cig – was still inside him.
A CT scan revealed the nozzle was inside his trachea – the windpipe – and was dangerously perched just inside the opening of his lungs.
He said: 'The drag I took must have been powerful. I guess I just went a bit OTT with it.
'I can joke about it now, but it was pretty scary. Initially when I couldn't breathe it was utter panic.
'They asked me if I could have coughed it up, but I knew I hadn't. I was breathing through it and if it had gone sideways I would have been dead.
'If it had slipped in, it could have collapsed the lung, which could have very quickly been fatal.'
Mr O'Brien was blue-lighted to Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital where he was taken straight into intensive care.
But had to wait overnight for the operation because he'd eaten a egg sandwich.
He had a bronchoscopy under general anaesthetic and surgeons removed the e-cig part using a camera and tweezers on Wednesday, September 26.
Now fully recovered, Mr O'Brien said: 'I think I'll play it safe for now and stick to the cigarettes.
'The hospital asked permission to use the photos in medical journals as they had never seen it.
'I guess I'm a lesson in how not to vape.'
MILLIONS USE E-CIGARETTES BUT THEY MAY HAVE HEALTH RISKS
E-cigarettes were invented just 15 years ago by a Chinese engineer, but already the devices have been used by an estimated three million Brits and nine million Americans.
Public health experts believe e-cigarettes can play a key role in helping smokers quit, and are already thought to help 22,000 people a year break the habit.
Experts agree the gadgets – which turn a liquid form of nicotine into vapour to be inhaled – are far safer than smoking tobacco.
But many scientists are worried about unresolved safety concerns, particularly if used over the long term.
There are particular concerns about those who use e-cigarettes as a 'lifestyle' tool – especially those who have not smoked before.
Others are also concerned that e-cigarettes could act as a route for teenagers to go on to smoke tobacco.
Public Health England says the devices 'must be clearly positioned as products that help adult smokers to quit'.
Past scientific research has suggested e-cigarettes could cause inflammation and damage in the blood vessels in heart, and trigger swelling in the airways.
Chemicals in them could also raise a person's mouth cancer risk, and the brain could be damaged because the vapour contains metals like lead.