Vapes. Oils. Juuls. Pods. THC. Nicotine. Lung damage and disease. Death.
The past few months have seen a spotlight turned onto the vaping industry unlike anything it has experienced in its relatively short history. And, depending on who you ask, there are just as many causes for that as there are lawsuits that have been filed as a result.
Momentum has been building against Juul, the preeminent vape manufacturer and the company that thrust vaping into the spotlight, for quite some time. Long seen as a company that was using the same tactics once used by cigarette manufacturers to target young people, Juul has been accused of becoming that which it tried to replace. Describing itself as a less harmful alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, internal documents show a company that was laser-focused on putting itself and its products in front of every young person it could. Information about the nicotine content of the pods used in Juul devices was scarce in the brightly colored ads featuring social media influencers raving about Juul’s flavors.
Then, in late spring of this year, reports began surfacing of a mysterious illness affecting those who reported vaping in the days prior to the onset of their symptoms. Coughing, chest pain, nausea, and fatigue was eventually leading to hospitalization. And, in some cases, some of those hospitalized would never make it out. To date, close to 1,100 people have fallen ill and 18 have succumbed to this new vaping-related illness.
These cases, however, initially appeared to be connected with vaping of another sort. Rather than vaping to ingest nicotine, the majority of these patients were vaping oils infused with THC; the compound in marijuana responsible for the drug’s high. In states where the sale or possession of marijuana was illegal, attention turned to illicit THC vape cartridges purchased on the black market. It was found that some, but not all, had been cut with vitamin E acetate, an oil that does not break down in the body like the substances used in traditional vape manufacturing. Some patients reporting vaping only THC while others reported a mix of THC and nicotine or just nicotine. And, in at least one case, the THC cartridge that caused the illness that killed the victim had been purchased in a legal, state-licensed marijuana dispensary.
With these injuries now numbering into the thousands, the drumbeat fueling backlash against Juul and other vape manufacturers over their marketing practices and other perceived deceptions is stronger than ever. And, with government institutions from the CDC and FDA to the White House, as well as numerous state and local legislatures now issuing near-daily warnings on the dangers of vaping of any sort, some see a legal battle over vaping emerging at a scale that hasn’t been seen since Big Tobacco.
“The lawsuits against Juul are expected to be reminiscent of the Big Tobacco suits from the 1990s; the vaping hype has even been referred to as Big Tobacco 2.0” says ConsumerSafety.org as reported by Fortune. The post goes on to reference a lawsuit brought by a New Jersey man claiming that Juul Labs sickened both him and his son by failing to disclose the amount of nicotine present in its products. In the next paragraph the post discusses a lawsuit brought by the state of North Carolina against Juul and eight other companies operating in the vape space over their marketing practices; particularly when it came to the targeting of minors.
Whether it’s the industry’s marketing tactics and practices; particularly around its desire to speak to young people, its failure to disclose the true volume of nicotine in its products, or the potential of some products to cause serious injury and harm to those who use them, there’s no doubt that it’s a very bad time to be in the vape business. And with the global vape market approaching nearly $20 billion in overall value; $7 billion of that from the U.S. market alone, many are wondering how ill-gotten those gains might have been.