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Health Risks of Vaping Highlighted After First Reported Death

Health Risks of VapingThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the first death attributable to an outbreak of severe lung disease found in users of e-cigarette or vaping devices occurred in Illinois on August 23, 2019. This unfortunate development follows several years of warnings from scores of medical researchers and institutions about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping.

The Director of the CDC said, this tragic death in Illinois reinforces the serious risks associated with e-cigarette products. Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms – including flavorings, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents. CDC has been warning about the identified and potential dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping since these devices first appeared. E-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.

Statement of Robert R. Redfield, MD, Director of the CDC, August 23, 2019 (emphasis added).

What is Vaping?

Vaping is a term used to describe the inhalation of an aerosol produced by e-cigarettes or similar devices, such as vaporizers or vapor pens. The manufacturers and users of these products refer to the devices by many different names, including e-cigarettes, e-cigs, vape pens, mods, vapes, and tank systems.

An e-cigarette/vaping device is a chemical delivery system that contains a lithium-ion battery, a heating element, and a container that holds a liquid, commonly referred to as an e-liquid. When the e-liquid is heated, it produces an aerosol that often contains nicotine, as well as some type of flavoring agent. The addition of flavoring provides users with a pleasant taste experience that also contains the same highly-addictive nicotine found in cigarettes. Although Congress passed a federal ban on flavored cigarettes in 2009, the ban doesn’t apply to e-cigarette products.

The Risks Associated with Vaping

Many device manufacturers market their products as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes; however, e-cigarettes and vaping devices still pose risks, both known and unknown, to users, including

  • Nicotine addiction
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Exacerbation of asthma
  • Mouth and throat irritation
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea

A number of potentially-harmful chemicals have been identified in many of the e-liquids used in vaping devices. Experts have said that it could take as long as 20 years before the long-term health effects of vaporizing are fully understood. According to a report issued by the Surgeon General in 2016, there are an estimated 7,700 unique flavors for e-liquids; most being fruit or candy flavors.

The biggest concern among health care professionals is the lack of available information to identify which of the thousands of flavoring chemicals are contained in a given flavor of e-liquid. Despite the mystery surrounding the precise chemical composition of many e-liquids, most are known to contain propylene glycol and glycerol. Although these two chemicals are not believed to be dangerous on their own, they can chemically decompose when heated and transform into toxic compounds such as formaldehyde.

The Dangers of Diacetyl

One particularly dangerous chemical found in many flavored e-liquids is diacetyl. Diacetyl is used extensively as a flavoring ingredient in many bakery products, dairy products, and snack foods. It is used primarily as a butter flavoring, but is also found in the formulations of many other flavors, including strawberry, caramel, hazelnut, and butterscotch.

Diacetyl has been linked to an incurable lung disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans, which is commonly referred to as popcorn lung. Popcorn lung gets its name from a medical condition that was first identified with workers at factories that produced microwaveable popcorn. Over a period of time, the inflammation caused by the disease results in breathing difficulties caused by the scarring of lung tissue and the narrowing of airways.

Workers in the food industry can be exposed to diacetyl in the form of vapors, dust, or mists. A number of workers have suffered from decreased lung function caused by serious respiratory diseases, such as popcorn lung and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Alarming Trends Identified in Largest E-cigarette Study

At the American Stroke Association’s 2019 International Stroke Conference, results from the largest study to date were presented which demonstrated a link between e-cigarettes and stroke. A database of 400,000 respondents was analyzed to identify increased health risks caused by the use of e-cigarettes. In 2016, 3.2 % of adults and 11.3% of high school students in the United States reported using e-cigarettes in the previous 30 days. Between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of young people who reported using an e-cigarette increased by a staggering 900%.

The study also found that when compared to non-users, e-cigarette users had:

  • 71 percent higher risk of stroke;
  • 59 percent higher risk of heart attack or angina;
  • 40 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease; and
  • Double the rate of cigarette smoking.

The data also revealed that 4.2% of users reported having suffered a stroke.

Nicotine also a Concern

Apart from the potpourri of potentially dangerous chemicals in e-liquids, nicotine in e-cigarettes also presents potential serious health concerns, particularly among younger users. Repeated exposure to nicotine can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. It is also well established that inhaled nicotine raises heart rate and blood pressure. Nicotine can also potentially impair brain development in adolescents, resulting in attention deficit disorder and poor impulse control.

As of August 2019, the FDA identified 127 reports of vaping-related seizures or neurological symptoms that occurred between 2010 and 2019. Most of the cases involved teenagers or young adult users. The FDA explained that seizures or convulsions are known potential side effects of nicotine toxicity and have been reported in the scientific literature in relation to intentional or accidental swallowing of e-liquid. However, a recent uptick in voluntary reports of adverse experiences with tobacco products that mentioned seizures occurring with e-cigarette use (e.g., vaping) signal a potential emerging safety issue.

FDA news release, Some E-cigarette Users are Having Seizures, Most Reports Involving Youth and Young Adults, dated April 10, 2019, found at www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/ctp-newsroom/some-e-cigarette-users-are-having-seizures-most-reports-involving-youth-and-young-adults.

Lawsuits Against Manufacturers

Lawsuits against e-cigarette/e-liquid manufacturers are still in the early stages. Although Juul has only been on the market since July of 2015, it has already become a prime target for litigation. A number of suits have been filed by users who claim that they became addicted to the e-cigarettes which either caused to or worsened their respiratory conditions. Many users also allege they were unaware that the products contained high levels of nicotine.

One such case involved a pair of Alabama college students who filed a lawsuit in 2019 alleging that they developed serious lung disorders from using Juul e-cigarettes. One 19-year-old student had been a cross country athlete in high school and claims she now has difficulty breathing even during low exertion activities. The other 19-year-old student, who had been using Juul e-cigarettes since he was 17, claims he suffered severe breathing problems after using Juul. According to the complaint, both students unintentionally swallowed vape fluids while using Juul.

In another recent lawsuit filed against the maker of Juul, a user claimed his use of Juul e-cigarettes caused him to suffer massive stroke before the age of 20. The user reportedly vaped two Juul pods per day, which is the equivalent of ingesting as much as 40 cigarettes worth of nicotine. According to the complaint, the user suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke in 2017 and required

three brain surgeries followed by lengthy recovery stays in the hospital.

Teenagers Targeted by Manufacturers’ Advertising

Many of the lawsuits against Juul allege that the company violated laws that prohibit the making of false, misleading or deceptive statements. Some suits demand that Juul change its marketing as well as the design of its products to make them less appealing to children.

In 2018, a federal law was passed that prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of eighteen. The FDA also issued a ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarette products at convenience stores. Therefore, only tobacco stores and online stores with age-verification checks are currently permitted to sell e-cigarettes and vaping products.

In May 2019, the Massachusetts Attorney General filed a lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacture Eonsomoke. The complaint alleges that Eonsomoke is “engaging in a concerted advertising campaign on social media channels to attract underage consumers to its vaping products, and [is] selling vaping products to consumers who are not the minimum legal purchase age to purchase tobacco products without any age verification.”

This lawsuit follows an investigation of these products by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office in the summer of 2018. The investigation found that Eonsmoke’s products were marketed on popular sites such as Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. In addition, the company’s flavored products had names like “cereal loops” and “gummy bears,” which, according to the Attorney General, are designed specifically to appeal to younger people.

What Can You Do?

If you suffer a serious health condition as a result of vaping or e-cigarette use, you may be able to file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the e-cigarette or e-liquid that made you sick.

If you believe that vaping has caused your respiratory illness, it is important that you hold onto any e-cigarettes/e-liquids that you used. You should also keep a journal and write down any information relevant to your condition, including:

  • When you first started vaping;
  • Frequency of use (number of times per day);
  • Where you purchased your e-cigarettes/e-liquids;
  • Date of first symptoms; and
  • Medical reports and test results.

The experienced attorneys at McEldrew Young are available to assist you. For a no-obligation review of your information, please contact McEldrew Young at (215) 367-5151. You can also submit your information through the contact form found on this site.