E-Cigarette Products Liability Litigation Moves Forward

The Products and the Lawsuits

Several products liability lawsuits are moving forward across the nation despite logistical challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic that deter discovery hearings and trials. Multiple trials are likely to begin by early 2022. These include individual personal injury cases, class action efforts, and lawsuits involving school districts and government entities. They all involve companies such as Juul Labs and Altria, which manufactured vaping devices, parts, and refills, and those entities who were distributors and retailers of the products.

Vaping exploded in popularity in recent years. This is of concern for several reasons, but two of the most important reasons are the high usage levels of e-cigarette devices among children and teenagers and an epidemic of adverse reactions to using the devices. The widespread use among children — many of whom are unaware of nicotine addiction risks in general — is particularly worrisome. One lawsuit filed in Chicago cites studies indicating that usage increased from 2016 to 2018 among middle and high schoolers by 40% in eighth-graders and 70% to 80% in tenth and twelfth-graders.

Who are the Defendants?

Juul Labs, Inc., the largest manufacturer of vaping devices and refills, controls about three-quarters of the e-cig market. Other producers include Altria Group Inc. — better known under the company’s prior name of Philip Morris Inc. — one of the world’s biggest and oldest manufacturers of tobacco products. The Juul product, which is far and away from the most popular, was only introduced in 2015 and rapidly dominated the market. On the other hand, Philip Morris Inc. (Altria) traces its name back to a cigarette maker in London in 1854 and a company first incorporated in the United States in 1902. Many “old guard” tobacco companies worldwide respond to the health concerns about smoking tobacco by finding new ways to market nicotine products.

The industry had estimated revenues of more than $7 billion in 2016. Juul Labs alone has a market value of more than $30 billion and has particular notoriety for an advertising campaign suggesting that vaping is safer than cigarettes. These claims were made without fully disclosing the adverse health impacts of Juul’s products.

What are the Products?

Electronic or “e-cigarettes” — also known as “vaping” — function by heating and vaporizing oils with various flavors that also contain nicotine, producing a vapor that can be inhaled. The e-cigarettes are small devices that can easily be carried — or hidden in the case of schoolchildren — and are sometimes intentionally manufactured to look like other, innocuous devices.

Nearly all the products come in various flavors that disguise the taste of the nicotine-carrying oils and make them more palatable. More troubling is the evidence that manufacturers intentionally used these flavorings to make their products more appealing to children and teenagers to get them addicted early to nicotine products. Millions of e-cigarettes are sold every year, and their use is skyrocketing. One study from the World Health Organization found the number of vaping users increased from seven million people in 2011 to more than forty million by 2018, with use still growing despite more and more negative news about the devices. The United States is the single largest user of these products worldwide.

What are the Product Liability Lawsuits Alleging?

The vaping manufacturers have advertised their products as having a similar experience to cigarette smoke without the health risks commonly understood to be present with tobacco smoking. Many of the lawsuits underway cite these “more healthy than cigarettes” claims, along with a failure to adequately describe the dangerous materials, including nicotine, present in vaping products. These cases typically refer to state consumer protection laws — for example, one class-action lawsuit filed in Illinois in 2019 specifically alleged violations of that state’s Consumer Fraud Deceptive Practices Act. That case included one plaintiff teenager from Chicago who had started vaping at age sixteen. In just two years — he said he particularly liked the mango and mint flavors — his doctors described his damaged lungs as looking like those of a 70-year-old.

Lung Injuries from Vaping Products

Another potential danger from using e-cigarette products began to appear in 2019, with numerous emergency room cases for individuals presenting severe lung damage symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2,800 hospitalizations (and some deaths) associated with these problems were recorded nationwide through early 2020.

Although these cases are primarily associated with vaping products containing THC (the active substance in marijuana) and mostly not with products from major name-brand manufacturers, the degree of overlap with nicotine-bearing products is not fully understood. These cases have already begun producing additional product liability cases that will likely be a “second wave” of claims against e-cigarette manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.

Watch YouTube Video – Vaping: What You Should Know. In the video below, Dr. Samir Khan, an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa in Canada, discusses the consequences of vaping and explains why it is unhealthy.

Sacramento Products Liability Attorney

Hello – I’m Ed Smith, a products liability attorney in Sacramento. If you or a family member has been injured using Juul, Altria, or other vaping products, please call us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 to speak with one of our injury attorneys. You can also reach us by using our online contact form.

Photo by LindsayFox from Pixabay

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