Last year, we wrote about the dangers of e-cigarettes, or vapes. As it turns out, exploding vape batteries were the least of the danger. As of September 24, in the United States alone, nine people have died from vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 530 cases of severe acute respiratory distress syndrome from the use of these devices.
Not surprisingly, there are already 30 individual and class action lawsuits targeting the most popular e-cigarette brand.
Vaping Lawsuits against JUUL Labs, Inc.
These lawsuits include:
- A Chicago teen who was recently hospitalized with severe lung damage. His family is suing both the vape maker, JUUL Labs, Inc. and the store that sold the nicotine-based products to a minor for 18 months.
- A Connecticut man who claims that the JUUL device was so addicting that within two years of starting to use it, he was vaping every 10 minutes. That’s two pods a day, the equivalent of 40 regular cigarettes. He suffered a massive stroke at 19. His permanent, catastrophic injuries, include speech difficulty, paralysis on the left side of his body, and partial vision loss in both eyes.
- A 15-year-old Florida girl who suffered seizures after unintentionally swallowing e-cigarette fluids while using JUUL.
Currently, most states prohibit the sale of tobacco products to people under 18, which means that all the above cases involved illegal tobacco sales to a minor. In Alabama, Alaska and Utah, the minimum age to purchase tobacco is 19. Five states set the minimum age at 21: California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Oregon.
What is JUUL?
Currently, JUUL is the most popular manufacturer of electronic nicotine delivery systems. JUUL Labs, Inc. controls about 75% of the U.S. e-cigarette market.
Adam Bowen and James Monsees originally co-founded the San Francisco-based company as Ploom in 2007. They sold the Ploom brand to a tobacco company in Japan, and rebranded as Pax Labs in 2015, when they launched the JUUL. Bowen and Mosses spun off JUUL as an independent company in 2017.
How Do JUUL Vapes Work?
JUUL vaping devices are battery-operated electronic vaporizers that utilize single-use cartridges containing nicotine salts, which are a mixture of freebase nicotine and benzoic acid or other acids. Users inhale the nicotine-salt-infused aerosol through a mouthpiece.
For many years, anti-tobacco activists have accused cigarette companies of using the process of freebasing nicotine to manipulate nicotine levels and keep users addicted. Freebasing involves using ammonia to remove protons in the nicotine, making it more potent, as it is absorbed much faster by lungs, brain, and tissues.
Because of this, JUUL pods contain 20 cigarettes’ worth of nicotine. The lawsuits use this information to support their claim that vaping is much more addictive than smoking regular cigarettes.
In addition, nicotine salts contain other chemicals, such as ethylene glycol or propylene glycol (antifreeze), and nitrosamines, which can cause cancer and insulin resistance.
Concerns about Vaping
The high nicotine concentrations and related health consequences of JUUL products has triggered investigations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to the widespread use of vapes by young people.
JUUL, naturally, denies marketing to youth. They say they market their product as a less-dangerous alternative to adults who already smoke. However, there is no proof that e-cigarettes are any less dangerous. In fact, research shows the opposite: young people who use e-cigarettes first are more likely to end up smoking traditional cigarettes.
And there are several reasons JUUL vapes are attractive to young people.
About the size of a computer flash drive, the JUUL is easy to hide. In fact, you can plug it into your computer to recharge, so most adults think it is a flash drive. Nearly one in five students between 12-17 have seen JUUL used at school.
JUUL flavored e-cigarette cartridges come in candy-like flavors like fruit medley, mango, mint, creme brulee and cool cucumber.
Whether or not this constitutes illegal marketing to minors, plaintiffs in lawsuits against JUUL may have other valid claims due to the following product liability standards:
- Failure to warn consumers about the product’s dangers, including higher risks of nicotine addiction than regular cigarettes. A 2019 study found that 40 percent of teens were not aware the vape flavors they used contained any nicotine at all.
- Defectively (or deceptively) designed products, which caused elevated levels of addiction and accidental ingestion.
Fake Vape Cartridges and Other Vape Brands
In addition to the risks of e-cigarette cartridges manufactured by JUUL, federal and state investigators are looking into fake vape pods. Many counterfeit cartridges contain cannabinoid products like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. At least one of the fatalities attributed to vaping involved a patient who used a product bought at a recreational marijuana store in Oregon.
The FDA is also looking at vape cartridges made with synthetic vitamin E oil (tocopheryl-acetate), which is used as a thickening agent because it’s cheap. This chemical has been found in vape cartridges with THC or other cannabinoids, as have formaldehyde and pesticide.
Other e-cigarette companies involved in lawsuits include Imperial Brands, which markets Blu; and British American Tobacco, maker of Vuse and Vype.
Altria Group, formerly Philip Morris Companies, one of the world’s largest tobacco producers and marketers, is also named in many lawsuits. Since December 20, 2018, it has owned a 35% share in JUUL Labs. Altria, of course, likewise denies any responsibility, because the conduct alleged in the lawsuits occurred before it acquired its “minority stake” in JUUL.
Potential Vaping Health Risks
All of this sounds concerning. But what are the potential health risks from inhaling nicotine, benzoic acid, ammonia, glycols, carcinogens, tocopheryl-acetate, formaldehyde, and pesticides?
As it turns out, quite a few:
Seizures – The FDA has received 127 reports of e-cigarette users suffering seizures or other neurological symptoms associated with nicotine toxicity.
Nicotine poisoning – Many users are unaware of the accelerated absorption of nicotine salts don’t know they are ingesting toxic levels. Accidental ingestion of liquid nicotine can also be life threatening.
Popcorn lung (bronchiolitis obliterans) – This is linked to the inhalation of diacetyl, a chemical used in the processing of microwave popcorn to provide a buttery taste.It causes damage and inflammation that blocks the bronchioles, the lung’s smallest airways. Harvard University researchers detected this flavoring agent in many flavored vape cartridges. Symptoms like coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath are like other lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or lipoid pneumonia.
Bronchiolitis Obliterans Organizing Pneumonia (BOOP) – Also called Cryptogenic Organizing Pneumonia (COP), this rare lung condition also affects the bronchioles, as well as the alveoli (tiny air sacs) and the walls of small bronchi. BOOP causes inflammation and stiffening of these areas, leading to lung damage.
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) – This causes fluid to accumulate in the alveoli and limits oxygen exchange with the bloodstream. This is sometimes referred to as wet lung.
Strokes – Research presented by the American Stroke Association in early 2019 found e-cig use increases a person’s risk of a stroke by 71 percent.
Cardiac disease – Vaping on a daily basis may nearly double the risk of a heart attack, according to a 2018 study.
Cancer – While e-cigarette manufacturers claim that inhaling vapor is less dangerous than cigarette smoke, there is no concrete proof. However, many chemicals that are found in vape pods, such as propylene glycol, ethylene glycol, and formaldehyde are known to cause cancer.
If You Vape
If you or someone you know uses a vape and suddenly exhibits these symptoms, see a doctor right away:
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- FatigueBring a sample of the vape cartridge with you, and ask whether it could be related to your condition.
While vaping may help some stop smoking altogether, it’s important to know what you’re inhaling:
- Read the labels on your vape pods so that you know whether they contain nicotine, how much, and what else they might contain.
- Don’t purchase fake vape pods, which are unregulated and might contain substances that are even more dangerous than nicotine or THC.
If You Suspect Vaping Is Making You Sick
If you or someone you know has suffered catastrophic, long-term injuries due to vaping, you may want to file a personal injury lawsuit. You may have a claim against the vape manufacturer, or if a minor was involved, the retailer who sold the vape products.
Preserve the e-cigarette and vape cartridges. Document your e-cigarette use: when you started, how often you vape, how many pods you use per day, etc.
Seek an attorney with experience in product liability and medical-device related lawsuits, like the attorneys at TorkLaw. We can help you prevail against tobacco companies who make a profit on your suffering.