Many smokers have turned to electronic cigarettes with the hope of avoiding the heart, cancer, and other health risks linked to tobacco products. But “vaping” has its own hazards, as too many people are finding out. “Vaping,” according to Pasadena product liability attorney Gregory Vanni, “is being promoted by big tobacco as a ‘safe’ alternative to smoking. Don’t believe the lie. Vaping users are far more likely to become cigarette smokers. Electronic cigarettes produce toxic vapors that are known to cause many health risks. In addition, electronic cigarettes have been prone to explode, causing serious injury to the user.”
Joseph Cavins, a 63-year-old family and marriage counselor from Irvine, found out the hard way about the dangers of exploding electronic cigarettes. Mr. Cavins lost his left eye when an electronic cigarette he was smoking exploded. “I felt like I was hit on the side of the head and everything went south from there,” Mr. Cavins told KABC News. He’s only one of many who’ve been injured using electronic cigarettes.
In May, Kenneth Barbero of Albany, New York was vaping when the device he was using blew up in his face, knocking out several teeth and leaving a hole in his tongue. Also in May, an Alabama high school student sustained burn injuries after a classmate’s e-cigarette exploded and he was struck by the hot battery. In February, a young man named Josh Hamilton was severely injured when an electronic cigarette battery apparently exploded in his pocket while he was paying for snacks at a gas station in Owensboro, Kentucky.
We have seen an increasing number of incidents where e-cigarettes are malfunctioning, catching fire, or even exploding and causing severe personal injuries – and especially in the Los Angeles area. What started as a “healthier” alternative to tobacco smoking is now a multi-billion-dollar industry selling millions of products all over the world and especially in Southern California. Small shops selling “vaping” products have suddenly popped up throughout Los Angeles and across the region.
HOW ARE E-CIGARETTES REGULATED?
Consumers need to know that vaping products have moved into the marketplace with very little testing and with virtually no regulation. Vaping products can heat up to a dangerous level, exploding and causing many types of injuries. When an e-cigarette exploded in his mouth, a 26-year-old Tustin man had to be rushed to emergency surgery. A small fragment of the device lodged in his mouth and had to be surgically removed. A man in Bakersfield had to have his left index finger amputated when a vaping device exploded as he was putting it to his mouth.
E-cigarettes are meant to compensate for the sensation of cigarette smoking by releasing a vapor when a heating element in the device brings the liquid vapor solution to a boil. The heating element requires a power source, usually a lithium-ion battery. The fires start in the battery. If electrolytes in the battery overheat, the battery may expand and rupture. While all batteries contain electrolyte solutions, the solutions in lithium-ion batteries are more dangerous because they are flammable.
The danger with e-cigarettes is heightened because the batteries are located at the end of a tube usually made of plastic or aluminum. Laptop computers and other electronic devices use durable plastic casings to prevent a battery explosion from doing much damage. But in an e-cigarette, a battery explosion can cause the cylindrical container of the device to shatter and to explode into dangerous, flying hot fragments.
HOW DOES THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA PROTECT CONSUMERS?
California product liability law protects consumers. Consumers in this state who are injured by any commercial product that is either negligently manufactured or negligently designed are entitled to complete compensation for current and future medical expenses, lost wages and lost earning capacity, and all other injury-related losses and damages. Causes of action for recovery of damages may also include the failure to warn users of a product’s potential dangers and breaches of express or implied warranties. In such cases, retailers may be liable as well as manufacturers for injuries caused by the products they sell.
Many of the products used for vaping are sold by small retailers who may not have liability insurance coverage. Since many of the devices used for vaping are manufactured in China, finding the original manufacturer – or taking any legal action against that manufacturer – can be quite difficult. Enforcing a monetary judgment against a foreign company is almost impossible. This means that persons injured by e-cigarettes in Southern California will need help from a Los Angeles County product liability attorney who can investigate other potentially liable parties such as the U.S.-based importers and distributors of vaping products.
Once a personal injury claim has been filed, other obstacles can remain for injury victims. The defendants in personal injury cases arising from e-cigarette injuries typically charge that the injury victim (the plaintiff) is “comparatively” at fault for his or her own injury by alleging “misuse” of the vaping device. When used as a normal consumer would use it, a vaping device should not explode and shoot shrapnel at the hands, face, and body of the user. A personal injury attorney can usually overcome this challenge, so if you are injured using an e-cigarette, do not try taking legal action without an attorney’s assistance.
DO OTHER PRODUCTS POSE OTHER DANGERS TO SMOKERS?
E-cigarettes are not the only consumer product that threatens tobacco smokers. About a billion – yes, one billion – cheap, disposable cigarette lighters are sold or given away with cigarette purchases each year in the United States. Most are made in China and do not comply with the voluntary safety standards shed by U.S.-based cigarette lighter manufacturers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that exploding cigarette lighters injure approximately a thousand people a year in the United States. Annual property and personal injury damages from defective lighters total $31 million a year, according to the CPSC.
The CPSC also says that many foreign-made disposable cigarette lighters include a defect that keeps the flame burning after the lighter is closed. Because there are no legally-required safety standards for disposable lighters in the U.S., the defective lighters remain on the market. Cigarette lighter manufacturers located in the United States make cigarette lighters that are safer – statistically speaking – but any cigarette lighter is potentially hazardous.
In Southern California, anyone injured by a defectively-manufactured e-cigarette or an exploding cigarette lighter should speak about your legal options with an experienced Los Angeles County product liability attorney. Burn injuries are often catastrophic and disabling – and are sometimes permanent. Someone who has suffered burn injuries because of a malfunctioning or exploding e-cigarette or a disposable cigarette lighter may need substantial compensation for medical treatment, lost wages, therapy and rehabilitation, and other burn injury-related expenses. Of course, if you can quit smoking entirely, do it – for your health and for those who love you.