Back in the 1990s, there was a series of lawsuits against tobacco companies (“Big Tobacco”) related to their marketing practices.
Today, we’re beginning to see similar litigation and legal challenges related to vaping.
$40 million Juul settlement
Vape (e-cigarette) manufacturer Juul has agreed to pay $40 million to the state of North Carolina, and to change its business and marketing practices in the state.
North Carolina sought to hold Juul accountable for creating a “youth vaping epidemic,” according to the North Carolina attorney general. (source) The $40 million settlement will be paid over 6 years, with the first $13 million to be paid within 30 days.
Part of the settlement includes an agreement by Juul that it will not target advertising to minors, use anyone in advertising who is younger than 35 years old, or pay for influencers to promote its products. It will also restrict the number of devices and pods a consumer can buy per month or per year in North Carolina.
Other business practices that are included in the North Carolina lawsuit include:
- No targeting kids in advertising, including on social media
- No claims that e-cigarettes are less dangerous or healthier than regular cigarettes
- A requirement that Juul products are sold from behind a store counter
- A secret shopper program would be implemented to ensure that measures are followed.
There are presently 9 other states that have filed similar lawsuits against Juul.
History behind tobacco lawsuits
You might be aware of the tobacco lawsuits in the 1990s, but lawsuits against cigarette makers actually began far earlier than that. In the 1950s, these lawsuits weren’t for personal injury, but rather for consumer protection and antitrust law violations. However, there were several legal theories that are used in personal injury and product liability lawsuits:
- Negligent manufacturing. The tobacco companies did not exercise reasonable care in making and marketing cigarettes.
- Product liability. The products were defective based on being unfit to be used by consumers.
- Negligent advertising. The tobacco companies failed to warn consumers about the health risks associated with smoking.
In the earliest lawsuits, the tobacco companies won. They said that tobacco wasn’t harmful to smokers, the smokers’ cancer was caused by other factors, and that the people assumed the risk of cancer when they decided to begin smoking.
In a later set of lawsuits in the 1980s, plaintiffs claimed that cigarette manufacturers knew that smoking causes lung cancer and that cigarettes are addictive, but they didn’t warn consumers. Most of these lawsuits were won by tobacco companies, too.
But by the 1990s, the courts knew better and plaintiffs began to have some success in tobacco lawsuits. In 2000, a California jury ordered manufacturer Philip Morris to pay $51.5 million to a smoker with lung cancer.
In addition, 46 states sued 4 major cigarette manufacturers: Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard. The companies agreed to cease certain marketing practices and to pay back the states for patients’ tobacco-related health care costs.
This time, the tobacco companies were unsuccessful with the defense that the smoker was aware of the risk and made a decision to smoke. In 1998, the states and tobacco companies settled the lawsuit.
The settlement included:
- $206 billion to be paid by the tobacco companies to the states to compensate them for health care costs related to smoking.
- Tobacco companies would not target advertising to children or teens.
- The National Public Education Foundation was created to reduce youth smoking and prevent associated diseases.
- Dissolution of 3 of the largest tobacco industry organizations.
Health risks of vaping
Vaping is inhaling and exhaling the aerosol vapor produced by an e-cigarette (electronic cigarette) or similar device, like a vape pen or advanced personal vaporizer (also called Mods).
A vape device is powered by a lithium-ion battery that heats the liquid into the cloud of vapor inhaled by the user. The vapor in an e-cigarette consists of fine particles of propylene glycol or vegetable glycerine-based liquid with nicotine, flavoring, and other chemicals that can be toxic and are linked to cancer, respiratory diseases, and heart disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against the risks of vaping. They give these 8 reasons why:
- Nicotine is addictive.
- Nicotine is toxic for a developing fetus, so vaping is especially harmful to pregnant women.
- Nicotine can affect the brain development of adolescents and teens, even into the mid-20s.
- Even a vape without nicotine is harmful because the vapor contains cancer-causing chemicals and particles that penetrate deep into the lungs.
- There are reports of fires and explosions from e-cigarette batteries that result in burn injuries.
- Acute nicotine exposure is toxic. Both children and adults have become poisoned after breathing, swallowing, or absorbing liquid from an e-cigarette.
- E-cigarette use by teens and young adults is linked to the use of other tobacco products like regular cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, along with alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.
- The aerosol in e-cigarettes’ flavoring contains diacetyl, which is linked to lung disease. It also could contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene (found in car exhaust) and heavy metals like nickel, tin, and lead.
Burn injuries from vape devices
Vaping burns aren’t common, but they can be serious.
E-cigarettes contain a portable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The user presses a button that activates the heating component. Some devices activate when the user initiates an inhalation.
Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere — in mobile phones, laptop computers, tablets, and hundreds of other electronic devices. However, lithium-ion batteries in vapes aren’t regulated as strictly as those in other devices. These batteries could overheat or catch fire from a brief exposure to another metal. That means carrying your vape in your pocket or handbag where it might touch (or come close to) your keys, loose coins, your phone, or other metals, could actually cause it to catch on fire. There’s also a risk of fire while charging a vaping device. If your vape catches fire while charging in your home or car, those flames can spread fast.
The U.S. Fire Administration has said that the shape and construction of e-cigarettes is part of the reason they’re more likely to explode than other devices that contain lithium-ion batteries.
Personal injury claims from vaping injuries
If you were injured by vaping, you might be able to file a product liability lawsuit.
Most personal injury lawsuits involve one or more of the following:
- Actual bodily harm
- Financial loss
- Emotional distress (pain and suffering)
As in any personal injury lawsuit, if you file a claim for a vaping-related injury, you could recover compensatory and punitive damages.
There are 3 types of defects that can lead to a product liability claim:
- Design defect. This happens if a product is inherently dangerous because the design wasn’t safe. Even if it’s manufactured exactly according to the design specifications, it remains a dangerous product when used correctly. The only way to correct the defect is to change the design and create the product differently.
- Manufacturing defect. If a product is damaged, not assembled properly, or otherwise comes through the manufacturing process incorrectly, it could result in a manufacturing defect.
- Inadequate warnings. Even if the product is designed and manufactured exactly as expected, sometimes injuries happen because the labels or packaging didn’t provide sufficient warning to the consumer about possible dangers or incorrect use.
The type of claim you would make in your vaping injury lawsuit would depend on the nature of your injury and what caused it.
The best thing to do is to contact a personal injury lawyer right away. While state-initiated lawsuits against the vape manufacturers, such as the recent North Carolina case against Juul, help establish the harms associated with vaping, but they don’t benefit you directly.
Here’s more on vaping injuries and lawsuits:
You can recover costs for an injury by proving negligence, and your lawyer is the best person to do that.