In the 1920s, the federal government initiated a ban on alcohol during prohibition for, among other reasons, health concerns. Almost a full century later, vaping-related health hazards that continue to surface are creating a similar climate of fear with many local governments urging users of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) to quit use immediately.
That fear is justified: as of today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports at least 1,299 lung injury cases related to vaping, and the death toll has reached 26 people in 21 different states. Medical professionals are so alarmed by the various health issues they continue to discover that some cities and states have banned vaping, while the federal government is now looking at a ban on most flavored vaping products.
What you should know about e-cigs and vape pens
Electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) are a tobacco alternative to traditional smoking. An electronic device is paired with a chemical liquid that is heated enough to produce a vapor that the user inhales. These devices come under many names, including e-cigarettes, vape pens, hookah pens, and JUUL devices. People who use e-cigs are “vaping” or “JUULing,” if they use a JUUL device.
People who vape have several different compounds to choose from that produce vapors for different purposes:
- Electronic cigarettes and vaporizer pens use vape juice or vape liquid, which comes in approximately 7,700 flavors ranging from menthol to fruit and candy flavors.
- JUUL makes its own flavor pods for use with its vaping devices. In addition to the flavorant, JUUL contains addictive nicotine.
- THC oil vaporizers are used for vaping marijuana based compounds and releases neurotransmitters in your brain to give you a “high” feeling.
- CBD oil vaporizers are used to vape hemp based compounds and also release neurotransmitters in your brain that leave you with a feeling of well-being.
While some of the chemicals in vape liquids are documented, the chemicals that actually create the flavoring are mostly unknown. The CDC explains:
The specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping, remains unknown at this time.
No single product or substance has been linked to all lung injury cases.
The outbreak is occurring in the context of a dynamic marketplace for e-cigarette, or vaping, products, which may have a mix of ingredients, complex packaging and supply chains, and include potentially illicit substances.
Users may not know what is in their e-cigarette or e-liquid solutions. Many of the products and substances can be modified by suppliers or users. They can be obtained from stores, online retailers, from informal sources (e.g. friends, family members), or “off the street.”
Diacetyl and e-cigarette liquids
In 2016, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health tested 51 different kinds of flavored e-cigarettes, and found “at least one flavoring chemical was detected in 47 of 51 unique flavors tested.” Diacetyl, the chemical associated with “popcorn lung” (bronchiolitis obliterans) and other severe respiratory illnesses, “was detected above the laboratory limit of detection in 39 of the 51 flavors tested.”
Respiratory illnesses associated with vaping and JUULing
Almost 1,300 people have developed some kind of e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury (EVALI), but they are not the only ones who are getting sick. There are a number of EVALI that appear to be linked to the chemicals in vaping. Medical professionals have diagnosed and treated numerous serious health conditions, including:
- Acute Respiratory Failure. The fluid buildup in the air sacs in your lungs causes your lungs to fail to release oxygen into your blood, which can result in organ failure.
- Asthma. A lung disease that causes airway constriction making it difficult to breath and limiting the amount of oxygen taken into the lungs.
- Collapsed Lung. Air escapes from the lung and fills the space between the lung and chest wall, putting pressure on the lung so it cannot normally expand to take a breath.
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs, making it difficult to breath.
- Pneumonia. An infection that inflames the air sacs in the lungs causing breathing difficulty.
- Popcorn Lung. Scarring and inflammation of the bronchioles.
- Cardiac Arrest. Abrupt loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness.
- Heart Attack. The flow of blood to the heart is blocked causing damage to the heart muscle.
- Seizures. Sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbances in the brain.
- Stroke. When the blood supply to the brain is interrupted causing brain cells to die.
Victims may need to be placed in the intensive care unit to receive medical treatment for many of these conditions. Treatment may include:
- Being placed into a medically induced coma
- Being placed on a ventilator to assist with breathing
- Oxygen treatment
- Steroid treatment
- Chest tube
- Heart surgery
- Brain surgery
A risk particular to JUULing
A JUUL pod is roughly equivalent to a pack of cigarettes in terms of nicotine consumption. Adults with a “pack a day” smoking habit are putting their health in jeopardy, but at least they know about the risk of traditional cigarettes.
JUUL, however, is a product used by – and some say, illegally marketed to – a younger generation, many of whom do not know they are inhaling this much nicotine. This results in nicotine toxicity, which can lead to seizures. The Food & Drug Administration issued the following warning about the signs and symptoms of nicotine-induced seizures in April 2019:
Seizures result from sudden, abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Though often associated with convulsions in which a person’s entire body shakes uncontrollably, not all seizures show full-body shaking. Other possible signs of seizures include a lapse in awareness or consciousness, which may look like a person is staring blankly into space for a few seconds or suddenly stops moving. The person may or may not fall down. Most seizures end in a few seconds or minutes, and the person may seem fine, sleepy, confused or have a headache afterwards. They may not remember what they were doing or what happened right before the seizure. While seizures generally do not cause lasting harm, they indicate the need for prompt medical attention to look for a cause and to prevent future seizures, if possible.
There are many risks to victims who pick up a JUUL or other vaping device that are unknown, and the results can be devastating not only for the victims, but also for their families. If you or a loved one has experienced an EVALI, or if your loved one has died from an EVALI, the catastrophic injury attorneys at McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC want to help you through this difficult time. We will seek the compensation from JUUL and other vape manufacturers that you deserve.
Our attorneys will stand by you as we protect the rights of citizens in South Carolina and nationwide who have been gravely injured. To learn more about pursuing litigation against JUUL or another e-cig company, call our dedicated e-cigarette hotline at 864-651-9295 or reach out to us through our contact page.
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Randy is the former President of the South Carolina Association for Justice. He has been certified by the American Board of Professional Liability as a specialist in Medical Malpractice Law which is recognized by the South Carolina Bar. Randy has also been awarded the distinction of being a “Super Lawyer” 10 times in the last decade. He has over 25 years of experience helping injured people fight back against corporations, hospitals and wrong-doers.
Read more about S. Randall Hood