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If your first thought about vaping is “It’s safer than smoking,” you’re not alone. In fact, until just a few years ago, vaping was widely promoted as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. In fact, many experts still say vaping is a safer alternative than smoking. But, that isn’t exactly the recommendation it may sound like.
For instance, in 2019 researchers concluded that e-cigarette users were 56% more likely to suffer heart attacks and 30% more likely to suffer strokes than non-smokers. That’s a significant improvement over the 165% increase in the risk of heart attack and 94% increase in the risk of stroke for cigarette smokers. But, vaping still puts users at a much higher risk than non-smokers. And, that’s just one of the risks associated with vaping.
A 2020 survey involving teens and young adults aged 13-24 showed that those who had ever used e-cigarettes were five times as likely to have contracted Covid-19 as those who had not. Those who’d vaped in the past 30 days were 6.8 times as likely to contract the virus as never users.
Because vaping has only become widespread across the past decade or so, the full health effects remain unknown. For example, there has been speculation that vaping can cause a condition known as “popcorn lung,” but that connection hasn’t been verified. And, it’s unclear whether vaping will cause cancer in the long-term, as smoking cigarettes is known to do.
What is EVALI?
In mid-2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was notified of a condition that came to be known as “e-cigarette,or vaping, produce use associated lung injury” (EVALI). It turned out EVALI wasn’t new. By the spring of 2020, the CDC had identified dozens of deaths and nearly 3,000 hospitalizations associated with vaping.
Symptoms of EVALI include:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Chest pain
- Rapid heart rate
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
Since EVALI was discovered just a few years ago, not much is known about the long-term prospects for those diagnosed with the condition. Some patients who are treated in the hospital and released begin to show symptoms again.
That’s what happened to 18-year-old Daniel David Wakefield, whose mother filed the nation’s first vape-related wrongful death claim against Juul in 2019. Wakefield, like many teens back then, believed vaping to be harmless. But, when he was admitted to the hospital for breathing problems, he was so addicted to nicotine that the hospital used nicotine patches to prevent withdrawal symptoms during his stay.
Wakefield was released from the hospital and went on about his life–including a return to vaping. On the day he died, his family didn’t notice any signs of shortness of breath or other related problems. But, Wakefield went to bed that night and never woke up. His death was attributed to “breathing complications.”
If you’ve been hospitalized with breathing problems and vape or have used e-cigarettes in the past, health professionals recommend following up with a physician within a week or two of your release from the hospital for assessment and monitoring of your blood oxygen saturation. Of course, you should also follow any additional instructions you receive from the hospital or your treating physician. Though the number of deaths has been relatively small, many victims have been otherwise healthy young or middle-aged people.
How Many People Have Died or Been Hospitalized with EVALI?
Unfortunately, we don’t know the exact answer to that question. The condition only caught the attention of public health officials in 2019, and lost some of that attention the following year. The decline in focus was partly due to an apparent decrease in the number of new cases. But, it was also partly due to the shift in focus as the Covid-19 pandemic escalated. Some earlier cases were identified retroactively, but we don’t know whether there are other unidentified cases from the mid-to-late-2010s or how many.
As of February, 2020, the CDC had identified 68 deaths and more than 2,800 hospitalizations.
What Causes Vaping-Related Illness and Injury?
There were some common threads among those hospitalized for vaping-related injury or illness, but none that was entirely consistent across all injured users. For instance, a majority of those who suffered serious health effects reported having vaped THC…but not all. Most also said they’d obtained their vaping supplies indirectly, such as through friends or online, rather than through official retail channels…but not all.
Ultimately, researchers determined that vitamin E acetate was likely the most common cause of these injuries. Vitamin E doesn’t sound dangerous–you may take vitamin E supplements or use hand cream that contains vitamin E. But, you’re not meant to inhale it.
One study showed that more than 90% of vaping-related lung injuries had the substance in their lungs, compared with 0% of healthy subjects studied at the same time. Still, experts have been quick to point out that vitamin E acetate may not be the whole answer, and may not be the only dangerous additive in vaping juice.
Vaping and Addiction
While our focus has been on the lung injuries suffered by some e-cigarette users, there’s another serious issue with vaping. It was initially touted as a great way to help people stop smoking. That was considered a victory because the health risks associated with vaping, though serious, are less serious than those associated with smoking cigarettes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about eight million people die each year of smoking-related illnesses. More than one million of them are non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke.
Unfortunately, it didn’t play out exactly as many hoped. For example:
- Not everyone who took up vaping quit smoking–a surprising number of e-cigarette users also smoked regular cigarettes
- Many people who had never smoked saw vaping as harmless or were drawn by the flavor selection and took up the habit
- Teens who vaped were found to be more likely to take up smoking
The most recent Annual National Youth Tobacco Survey revealed that more than 14% of high school students vaped–that’s about 2.14 million teenagers. More than half a million use e-cigarettes every day. 3.3% of middle school students also reported vaping. Though the percentage is small, the number isn’t; that’s about 380,000 adolescents.
Adolescent and teen users are significantly more likely to use flavored vape juice, especially sweet flavors such as fruits and candies.
Vaping-Related Lawsuits and Other Legal Action
The issues with vaping in the U.S. are multi-faceted, but much of the recent attention has gone to vaping supply companies marketing to adolescents and teens. Over the summer, the federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) ordered Juul products pulled from the market. A court delayed enforcement of that order. However, Juul–once the industry leader–has lost market share. Declining sales, combined with hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements with state and local governments and school districts have the company considering bankruptcy.
Others have stepped into the void. Among respondents to the Youth Tobacco Survey cited above, Puff Bar was the most popular brand among teens. That’s likely because Puff Bar’s disposable devices aren’t covered by the FDA ban on flavored vape juice, meaning kids who switch still have access to those sweet and fruity flavors. But, the FDA says the company is delivering e-cigarettes in the U.S. without premarket approval–in short, illegally.
While regulators and governmental entities sort out the unauthorized sales, marketing to kids, flavor restrictions, and other problems, another significant issue remains: the people who have been injured by or lost loved ones to vaping injuries.
Who Can Sue for Vape-Related Injuries?
Many who have suffered injuries or lost a loved one due to vaping have filed product liability or wrongful death lawsuits against manufacturers. In addition to lung-related injuries, some plaintiffs have asserted that vaping caused or contributed to strokes, seizures, and other medical problems. Many lawsuits also assert that the defendant company or companies intentionally marketed their products to teens, and misled the public about the risk of addiction.
If you believe you have been harmed by vaping or you’ve lost a loved one to EVALI or another vape-related medical condition, you may be entitled to compensation. But, these cases are complicated and technical–you’ll need knowledgeable guidance to pursue a claim.
The attorneys at Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz have extensive experience with defective retail product and defective drug litigation, and know how to find and coordinate with the right experts for a complex case involving medical and scientific evidence. To learn more about how we can help, call 937-222-2222 or fill out the contact form on this page.