Injuries and Deaths Associated with E-Cigarettes
February 5, 2021
Despite observing a slow decline in hospitalizations and deaths related to e-cigarettes and other vape products (such as devices that contain THC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are reminding consumers to stay vigilant and to avoid vaping devices that contain vitamin E acetate. Though vitamin E is generally safe to ingest as a dietary supplement or directly from food sources, studies have shown that it is harmful and can cause severe lung injury when inhaled.
Why is Vaping a Public Health Concern?
According to CDC data, there have been at least 2,807 hospitalizations and 68 EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury) deaths. The CDC attributes the majority of these cases to consumer use of e-cigarettes and vape products that contain vitamin E acetate. Vitamin E acetate is a popular additive in THC-containing vapes and can also be present in conventional nicotine e-cigarettes. Vape pens and e-cigarettes are battery-powered products that heat up oils and other liquids into aerosol agents that users can then inhale. Vitamin E acetate is used to thicken or dilute these oils (which are commonly referred to as e-cigarette “juices” or e-juices). Most oils also contain additives such as nicotine, various flavorings, propylene glycol, and other potentially dangerous inhalants.
Vitamin E acetate can cause lung injuries because as a sticky, oily substance it clings to lung tissue. Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC conducted testing on emergency department patients who presented with vape and e-cigarette-related injuries and found vitamin E acetate to be in a large portion of the patient’s lung samples. Despite the known dangers of inhaling vitamin E acetate, it is still legal to use as an additive in most states. It is particularly popular and arguably more common in THC-containing cartridges because it allows the e-juice to “stretch”, making the oil last longer.
Another major public health concern with e-cigarettes and vape products is their growing popularity among American youth. Although lung injury rates may be slowly declining, usage rates continue to grow. As stated by a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), more than one in four high school students report recently using e-cigarettes. In total, an estimated 5.3 million middle and high school students use vape products. Flavored e-cigarette juices like bubble gum, mint, and mango nicotine flavors have proven to be especially popular choices among young users. Some companies are also notorious for targeting young users through colorful marketing campaigns and endorsements from social media influencers and other celebrities.
The FDA initiated a nationwide ban on several flavored e-cigarette products last year, but the ban only applies to certain types of devices, like pre-filled pods (such as Juul products) and cartridges. Other kinds of flavored devices still remain on the market. The agency is also trying to prevent manufacturers, distributers and sellers from utilizing predatory marketing tactics that target young users by way of banning sales to individuals under the age of 18 and disallowing the sale of e-cigarettes and vape products in vending machines unless they are in adult-only facilities. Notwithstanding the FDA’s efforts, e-cigarettes continue to endanger American youth, with many still available for purchase online without age-verification.
The CDC reports that the majority of patients who present with e-cigarette or vaping-use associated lung injury are 18 to 24-years-old (37%). Children and teens under 18 account for 15% of total EVALI cases, and individuals between 25 and 34-years old as well as people over the age of 35 each account for 24% of injuries, respectively. Tragically, the youngest individual to have died from EVALI was just 15-years-old, though doctors have diagnosed patients as young as 13 with the deadly condition.
Dangerous Product Defects
Lung injuries are not the only thing that e-cigarette and vape users have to be wary of. In just a two-year span, there were a total of 2,035 visits to hospital emergency departments for injuries related to e-cigarette burns and explosions. In one case, a device exploded in a 17-year-old’s mouth as he was using it. The impact of the explosion shattered his jaw, vaporized parts of his gum tissue, and knocked out several of his teeth. Most e-cigarette and vape users store the devices near or on their bodies, like in a jacket or pants pocket. If the device explodes, overheats, or catches on fire, a consumer can experience catastrophic and life-changing burns.
The majority of e-cigarette batteries are lithium-based. While lithium-based batteries are fairly safe power sources in certain products like laptops and cell phones, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has classified them as an “unsafe source of energy” for e-cigarettes and other vape devices. According to the USFA, the shape and construction of electronic cigarettes increases their likelihood of becoming like “flaming rockets” in the case of battery failure. Manufacturers, sellers, and distributors of e-cigarettes and vape devices may be held liable for manufacturing defects and design defects that injure consumers, such as assembling a device incorrectly or failing to abide by safety standards. Manufacturers, sellers, and distributors may also be liable for various marketing defects like improper or inadequate product labeling or the failure to warn consumers about associated fire and explosion risks.
Official Recommendations from the CDC and FDA
In order to reduce the rate of lung injury in users, the CDC and FDA have issued official recommendations for e-cigarette and vape product users. The recommendations are as follows:
- Do not use THC-containing e-cigarettes, especially if you acquire them from informal sources like in-person or online dealers, friends, or family members
- Adults who use e-cigarette and vape products as an alternative to conventional tobacco products should not return to smoking. Instead, consider FDA-approved smoking cessation medications. If an adult decides to use e-cigarettes as an alternative, they should switch over completely and not partake in dual use of products (e.g. using conventional tobacco products in addition to e-cigs or vapes)
- Children, teens, and women who are pregnant should not use e-cigarette or vape products that contain THC or nicotine
- Adults who do not currently use tobacco products should not begin using vaping products
- Anyone who needs help quitting tobacco products or e-cigarette and vape products or who has concerns about lung injuries like EVALI should contact their healthcare professional to learn more
If a defective e-cigarette or vaping device injured you or a loved one or you became ill after using one, someone at our firm can help. To learn more, contact a representative online now.
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