Vaping has been in the news lately for various reasons – injuries, addiction, lawsuits, and legislation. Whether in the news for any of the above, there is no question that vaping is cause for serious concern for parents, minors, educators, and other individuals.
Individuals have sustained serious lung injuries as a result of vaping. The symptoms of the vaping-related illness includes symptoms like cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills, weight loss, and low oxygen saturation. The symptoms are similar to influenza or respiratory infections and can result in serious injury, including death.
The Centers for Disease Control have compiled statistics on hospitalization resulting from e-cigarette, or vaping, and the related lung illness. As of January 14, 2020, there have been a total of 2,668 hospitalizations related to these injuries, including 60 deaths. The median age of these patients was 24 years old, with 52% of hospitalizations being those 24 and under. These lung illnesses, linked to Vitamin E Acetate which is an additive to many e-cigarette or vaping products, raise concern for the use of these products manufactured by companies like Juul, Logic, NJOY, Fontem, and Reynolds American.
Like cigarettes, vaping products contain nicotine which is well known to be addicting. Many people, including minors, are now facing addiction issues. Many would be surprised to know that one Juul pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. In addition to the high levels of nicotine in these devices, e-cigarettes deliver a very efficient dose of nicotine to the user without some of the irritation associated with traditional tobacco use. Taken together with some of the marketing, flavors, and discreet packaging of devices, this creates a dangerous opportunity to become addicted to the product which can cause serious injury.
Although addiction may seem like a secondary concern to the serious lung injuries sustained by some individuals who use these products, the addictive effects of vaping are serious, especially for adolescents. Adolescents who begin using these products can easily become addicted to nicotine. Nicotine can also be harmful to developing adolescent brains, including reduced impulse control, mood disorders, and attention issues. Additionally, just like more traditional tobacco use, e-cigarette use during pregnancy can harm fetal development resulting in altered brain tissue, deficits in auditory processing, obesity, and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Addiction to these vaping products, especially when individuals start using when they are teenagers, can lead to serious consequences.
Ongoing litigation and legislation
In addition to action by the federal government, there is presently litigation occurring against one of the largest vaping companies, Juul Labs, Inc. This is multi-district litigation which means there a number of lawsuits from individuals, municipalities, and states all across the country which are combined into one case. The various parties to this lawsuit against Juul have alleged that Juul engaged in deceptive marketing, labeling, sales, and advertising of its products which includes its e-cigarette devices and pods. The pods are filled with the liquid nicotine (or other compounds) which are the subject of much scrutiny as a cause of serious injury.
The allegations against Juul include that the company knew the products were not safe and continued to market them to both non-smokers and smokers. Additionally, there are allegations that through fruit and candy flavors, vaping companies like Juul have targeted children to become users. School districts across the country have also initiated actions against Juul for burdening schools with the repercussions of teenage nicotine addiction. As noted above, adolescents are especially vulnerable to suffering the consequences of vaping and school districts are also taking action to protect their students.
Overall, the dangerous implications of vaping, whether related to serious lung injuries or addiction, pose a genuine risk to all ages but especially adolescents. Litigation initiated by individuals injured, municipalities, and school districts are an important step along with legislation, to help protect individuals from the harms of vaping.
Tim O'Keeffe is a founding partner of O'Keeffe O'Brien Lyson Foss in Fargo, North Dakota. Tim is a trial lawyer representing victims in serious injury and wrongful death cases throughout North Dakota and Minnesota. Tim is the Past President of the North Dakota Association for Justice and currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice.