“Vaping” was originally hailed by its supporters as a way to reduce the damage to the lungs caused by smoking, since vaping mixtures contain considerably fewer than the 7,000 chemicals present in tobacco. Critics, however, allege that is a way of enticing children into smoking tobacco using vaping as a gateway. Indeed, over a third of high school seniors have reported vaping, and the U.S. Surgeon General says that there is an “e-cigarette epidemic among youth.”
Can E-Cigarettes Help You Quit Smoking?
Many people do vape to quit smoking tobacco, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most of these people end up using both. A 2016 study from UC San Diego found that even after two years, nearly half of all original “dual users” had not stopped using either product. The net effect, according to a 2018 study from UC San Francisco, is that dual users typically don’t reduce their cigarette use by vaping.
The Dangers of E-Cigarettes
The two main dangers of e-cigarette use are the risk of vaping-related illnesses, which are akin to the dangers involved in smoking tobacco, and the risk of vaping device explosions.
It would be wonderful if vaping operated as a clean and healthy alternative to smoking. A 2019 study, however, reported that e-cigarette users face:
- a 71 percent higher risk of stroke,
- a 59 percent higher risk of heart attack; and
- a 40 percent higher risk of heart disease.
Additionally, as of August 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had collected 127 reports of vaping-related seizures or neurological symptoms that have occurred since 2010. These findings are disturbing because, just as the case with tobacco in the 1950s, most of the public is unaware of the risk and the manufacturers and distributors of the product cannot be counted on to warn them.
What’s Going into Your Body When You Vape
While vaping does not involve the smoking or inhalation of tobacco per se, it does involve the inhalation of the following chemicals, among others:
- Upper airway irritants such as glycol and glycerin;
- Diacetyl, which has been linked to an incurable disease known as “popcorn lung”;
- Organic compounds such as benzene, whose interaction with the human body is poorly understood; and
- Heavy metals such as lead, nickel, and tin.
A long-term tobacco user, who has been addicted to nicotine for years and turns to vaping as a way of reducing the damage to his lungs, might feel he has little to lose by vaping. But someone who is not yet addicted to nicotine has a lot more to lose. This is particularly true of adolescents, because nicotine can more easily rewire an adolescent’s brain. The result is often years or even a lifetime addiction to tobacco products, including traditional cigarettes.
When someone gets drunk, we do not normally describe it as “alcohol poisoning”; likewise, when someone smokes a cigarette or vapes, we don’t normally refer to it as “nicotine poisoning.” Nevertheless, just as there is such a thing as alcohol poisoning, there is such a thing as nicotine poisoning. In other words, it is possible to overdose on nicotine.
Most e-liquids contain nicotine concentrations of two percent – but others contain as much as 10 percent nicotine. Furthermore, liquid nicotine can be absorbed by the body far more quickly than the nicotine found in tobacco. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that in 2018, the nation’s poison control centers reported treating over 2,500 cases involving e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine.
Symptoms of Nicotine Poisoning
The most common symptoms of nicotine poisoning include:
- A burning sensation on the inside of the mouth;
- Elevated heart rate and heart palpitations;
- Restlessness or excitement;
- Weakness and lethargy;
- Abdominal cramps;
- Difficulty breathing, inability to breathe at all, or hyperventilation;
- Muscle twitching or convulsions;
- Fainting spells;
- Paralysis; and
Vape pens and e-cigarettes use lithium batteries that are prone to explode, and the risk is substantial. In addition to the significant likelihood of an explosion, the damage to your body could be disproportionate to the size of the explosion. When an e-cigarette battery explodes, it may be inches from your face.
How Explosions Occur
- Overcharging: “Overcharging” doesn’t mean selling a vape pen at an exorbitant price (though that could lead to a different kind of explosion), it means keeping the device plugged in long after it is fully charged. Overcharging an e-cigarette battery can cause it to overheat and explode.If, for example, you charge your device overnight and it damages your battery, you will be lucky if it explodes during charging (at least if it doesn’t set your house on fire while you’re asleep). If you’re not so lucky, it could explode later while you are smoking or while the device is in your pocket right next to your groin.
- Using an incompatible charger: Using an incompatible charger can also cause overheating and explosion, because not all chargers have the same output. Too high of an output can cause an explosion. And just because you can plug a charger into your vaping device, doesn’t mean it’s compatible. Determining the compatibility of a charger can be complex, and there is a desperate need for international standardization.
- Substandard products: US-manufactured vaping devices are typically higher quality than similar devices manufactured in many other countries – particularly China. Unfortunately, many US companies maintain or do business with factories in China. Counterfeit brands are also common, especially among products bought online.
Fortunately, If you are injured by a vaping device that was manufactured overseas, you won’t necessarily have to go to China to sue the manufacturer. You could perhaps sue someone else in the chain of distribution of the product regardless of whose fault the accident was, which is likely to include a US-based company.
The typical injuries caused by exploding vaping devices include:
- Broken teeth;
- Soft tissue damage; and
- Third-degree burns caused by flames or by caustic chemicals. These can be around the mouth and face, or even around the legs and groin when the devices explodes inside someone’s pocket.
At least one person has been killed by a vaping device explosion when an explosion shot shrapnel into his head and started a fire that burned his house down.
Medical expenses can be costly due to the need for hospitalization and surgery. The emotional cost of the pain, suffering, and sometimes permanent facial disfigurement cannot be calculated. But inevitably it is, down to the last cent, when an explosion victim wins a products liability lawsuit on this basis.
FDA Regulation of E-Cigarettes
The federal government has been slow to regulate e-cigarettes and vaping devices. In fact, the FDA did not even gain the authority to regulate in this area until 2016. FDA regulation can affect future vaping lawsuits, even in state court, because it can provide a standard by which liability can more easily be determined.
In 2018, the FDA launched a crackdown on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors as well as the distribution of free samples to people of any age. The Trump administration, however, has been delaying the enforcement of new standards. Standards such as the addition of addictiveness warnings, information on the exact ingredients contained in e-cigarettes, and the labeling of vaping mixtures as “light,” “low,” or “mild.”
None of this is surprising since Trump-nominated FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb (recently retired) once served on the board of directors of an e-cigarette company and retained stock in the company even after he was nominated for commissioner. To a significant extent, the immediate future of e-cigarette litigation hinges on political developments.
E-cigarette lawsuits have been proliferating rapidly over the past few years – nationwide, over 100 battery explosion lawsuits were filed in 2015 alone, for example. The number is steadily rising, and it doesn’t even include lawsuits filed over vaping-related illnesses. Since the latter category of injury could take years or even decades to manifest itself, a dramatic long-term increase in vaping lawsuits seems reasonably likely. The following are two examples:
- In 2015, a California jury awarded $1.9 million to a woman who was severely injured by an exploding e-cigarette.
- In 2019, Maxwell Berger sued JUUL Labs, claiming his two-pods-a-day habit led to a massive stroke while he was still a teenager. Two pods a day is the nicotine equivalent of two packs of tobacco cigarettes a day. Berger complained that he began vaping in high school, and that, within two years, he suffered a stroke that required three brain surgeries, paralyzed parts of his body, and caused speech impairment and loss of vision.
E-cigarette product liability claims
E-cigarette product liability lawsuits tend to cluster around the following claims:
- The device or the mixture contained a design defect – the battery was prone to explosion, for example, or the vaping mixture was intentionally loaded with excess concentrations of nicotine to addict the user and thereby lead to “regular customers.”
- The device or the mixture contained a manufacturing defect – a shoddily manufactured vaping device, for example.
- The defendant failed to provide adequate product warnings (regardless of whether these warnings were then required by the FDA).
The potential for compensation could be exceptionally high in some cases – the wrongful death of a young adult, for instance, or facial disfigurement that results in humiliation and emotional suffering.
Anticipating the Future by Looking at the Past
In a 1998 settlement, several giant tobacco companies agreed to pay 46 US states and six other US jurisdictions over $200 billion in order to compensate them for smoking-related healthcare costs that they incurred on behalf of their residents. This was the largest civil settlement in US history. Could e-cigarette manufacturers face a similar fate? Only time will tell.
Fight Back – Contact Berkowitz Hanna Today
If you have been injured by a vaping device, or if you are suffering symptoms that can be traced to vaping, call Berkowitz Hanna today or simply contact us online for a free initial consultation. We serve clients from throughout Connecticut from our offices in Stamford, Bridgeport, Danbury, and Shelton, and we charge nothing unless we win your case.