E-Cigarettes and Popcorn Lung Disease - Consumer Justice Foundation

E-Cigarettes and Popcorn Lung Disease

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E-cigarette users who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening lung disease called “popcorn lung” may be entitled to compensation for their injuries and medical expenses.

The flavoring chemicals used in e-cigarettes to make the devices more appealing to younger users may contain dangerous levels of a chemical called diacetyl, which has been linked to a potentially life-threatening lung disease known as “popcorn lung.” If you have been diagnosed with popcorn lung or another serious lung-related illness, and you believe harmful chemicals from flavored e-cigs or liquid e-cig refills to be the cause, our consumer advocates at the Consumer Justice Foundation can help. We are committed to protecting the rights of consumers harmed by dangerous and defective products, and can help put you in touch with a reputable popcorn lung attorney who has experience handling e-cigarette injury claims.

What are E-Cigarettes?

Electronic cigarette devices sold as alternatives to regular cigarettes that have been linked to respiratory disease, lung disease and a condition called popcorn lung.

Electronic cigarettes, more commonly known as e-cigarettes or e-cigs, are battery-powered vaporizers that simulate the feeling of smoking, but without actually burning tobacco. Dubbed “vaping,” e-cigarettes are activated when the user takes a puff or presses a button on the device and inhales an aerosol, called vapor. Electronic cigarettes typically feature a heating element that atomizes a liquid solution called an e-liquid, which generally contains glycerin, propylene glycol, nicotine and flavorings. Recently, however, a flavoring chemical called diacetyl, found in more than 75% of flavored e-cigs and refill liquids, has been linked to cases of severe respiratory disease, and experts believe that a primary focus on the health risks of nicotine has overshadowed lung disease and other serious health hazards associated with electronic cigarettes.

Possible Side Effects Leading to an E-Cigarette Lawsuit

E-cigarettes are designed to help people quit smoking, but the devices are not currently regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means there is limited data regarding the safety and effectiveness of the products. According to recent research, individuals who use e-cigarettes may inhale diacetyl or two other potentially harmful compounds found in e-cig flavors that may appeal to younger users, like “Cotton Candy,” “Cupcake” and “Fruit Squirts.”

Popcorn lung is an irreversible lung disease that can be fatal, and many cases of the condition require a lung transplant for survival. Popcorn lung results from exposure to diacetyl, the chemical used in butter flavoring and other flavored products, and research has shown that the condition can occur within two to eight weeks after exposure to diacetyl, or even years later. Among the most common symptoms of popcorn lung are:

  • A dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Peeling skin
  • Night swears
  • Weight loss

Link Between E-Cigs and Lung Disease

For years, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the flavoring industry have warned about the possible health risks of diacetyl because of the link between inhaling the chemical and the severe respiratory disease bronchiolitis obliterans, which is sometimes called “popcorn lung,” because it was first discovered in individuals who inhaled artificial butter flavoring while working in factories that processed microwave popcorn. Despite the fact that e-cigarette manufacturers have claimed that the use of flavors in e-cigs is the equivalent to using flavoring in foods, e-cig users aren’t ingesting the flavoring chemicals, they are inhaling them, which is where the problem lies.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in the medical journal Environmental Health Perspectives examined the potential safety risks of inhaling diacetyl while using e-cigarettes and other products. “Recognition of the hazards associated with inhaling flavoring chemicals started with ‘popcorn lung’ over a decade ago,” the researchers wrote. “However, diacetyl and other related flavoring chemicals are used in many other flavors beyond butter-flavored popcorn, including fruit flavors, alcohol flavors, and, we learned in our study, candy-flavored e-cigarettes.”

Popcorn Lung Lawsuits Over Diacetyl Exposure

March 2004 – A $20 million verdict is delivered in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a man who suffered severe lung injuries while working at a popcorn plant in Missouri. More than 30 of his co-workers also filed suit against International Flavors and Fragrances, and two additional verdicts of $15 million and $2.7 million were obtained before the cases were settled.
September 2007 – A Washington man is diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans (popcorn lung) after consuming four to six bags of artificially buttered microwave popcorn every day for several years.
October 2008 – A popcorn lung lawsuit is brought against butter flavoring companies and microwave popcorn manufacturers on behalf of a woman who developed popcorn lung allegedly caused by inhaling the butter flavoring.
April 2010 – A popcorn lung lawsuit is filed in New York state court against packaged foods company ConAgra Foods Inc. and several diacetyl manufacturers, on behalf of a woman who was diagnosed with the lung disease.
August 2010 – A Chicago jury awards $30.4 million in damages to a man who developed popcorn lung after working in plants that processed diacetyl for approximately 20 years.
September 2012 – A Colorado man who developed popcorn lung after consuming large amounts of microwave popcorn every day for 10 years is awarded $7.2 million in damages.
April 2014 – A Michigan resident who developed a rare lung disease after consuming microwave popcorn regularly for nearly 20 years reinstates a lawsuit he had filed in a federal court in Michigan, which was dismissed due to the state’s three-year statute of limitations for product liability lawsuits.
August 2014 – A Sioux City court hears a popcorn lung lawsuit filed against flavoring companies by a Michigan man who alleges that he became sick because of inhaling chemicals from the buttery flavoring of microwave popcorn.

Federal Regulators, E-Cigs and Lung Disease

July 2007 – Dr. Cecile Rose of the National Jewish Medical and Research Center warns government agencies in a letter that consumers may be at risk for popcorn lung due to diacetyl exposure.

October 2010 – OSHA releases guidelines for dealing with diacetyl in the workplace, along with a list of foods that contain the hazardous chemical.

August 2011 – The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends limiting short-term diacetyl exposure to five parts per billion as a time-weighted average during a 40-hour work week.

April 2014 – The FDA proposes new regulations for the e-cigarette industry, but fails to institute limits on e-cig advertising or on nicotine levels used in the devices.

August 2014 – The World Health Organization issues a report recommending that use of e-cigs be banned indoors, and all advertising discontinued until the electronic cigarette industry provides “convincing supporting scientific evidence and obtains regulatory approval.”

August 2014 – Deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s board of science, Ram Moorth, calls for “tighter controls” to “ensure [the use of e-cigs] does not undermine current tobacco control measures and reinforces the normalcy of smoking behavior.”

July 2015 – The FDA highlights a number of adverse events potentially linked to e-cigarettes, including an increased risk of pneumonia, seizure, disorientation, congestive heart failure and hypotension.

September 2015 – The CDC’S National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health reports that “Current evidence points to diacetyl as one agent that can cause flavorings-related lung disease.”

E-Cig Side Effect Studies

August 2014 – The Journal of Environmental Science, Processes and Impacts publishes research indicating that the vapor emitted by e-cigs contains the toxic element chromium, as well as levels of nickel four times higher than in real tobacco. The devices also contain zinc, lead and other toxic metals, researchers report.

August 2014 – A report published by BBC indicates that e-cigarette liquid refills sold in the north east of England contained diacetyl, and the company that manufactured the refills immediately withdrew the liquid from the market, admitting that there are concerns about the safety of inhaling diacetyl.

April 2015 – The medical journal Tobacco Control publishes research indicating that the chemicals used to flavor electronic cigarettes may surpass safe levels, leading to respiratory irritation and other serious side effects for users.

December 2015 – A study published online in Environmental Health Perspectives examines 51 e-cig flavorings, including “Alien Blood” and “Cupcake,” and finds diacetyl and other potentially harmful chemicals linked to lung disease in 47 of them.

Why We Think E-Cig Manufacturers Should Be Held Liable for Popcorn Lung Side Effects

Critics have been voicing concerns for more than a decade about the health hazards associated with flavoring compounds like diacetyl, yet there are currently more than 7,000 varieties of flavored electronic cigarettes and nicotine-containing liquids used in refillable e-cig devices that may expose users to these potentially harmful chemicals on a daily basis. Furthermore, these flavored e-cigs don’t usually list the levels of specific chemicals that are present in the liquids, which means that users may have no idea that they are being exposed to potentially dangerous levels of diacetyl and other chemicals when “vaping.” Lawsuits brought against the makers of e-cigs over medical conditions like lung disease and popcorn lung in the future will likely involve allegations that the companies:

  • Designed, produced and promoted a defective product
  • Had a duty to protect the health and safety of consumers
  • Failed to adequately research the adverse effects of diacetyl exposure
  • Failed to provide adequate warnings to users and the medical community about the risk of lung disease associated with diacetyl exposure
  • Targeted younger users by offering e-cig flavors like “Cupcake,” “Cotton Candy,” and “Alien Blood”

What should you do? If you have been diagnosed with lung disease or “popcorn lung,” you should contact an attorney as possible as possible to discuss filing an e-cigarette lawsuit.

Since e-cigarettes were first introduced in 2004, their use among American teens and adults has skyrocketed. As of 2014, approximately 13% of U.S. high school students had used the devices at least once in the previous month, and as of mid-2015, about 10% of American adults are currently using e-cigs. These statistics are particularly alarming in light of the fact that research has linked diacetyl and other chemicals found in e-cigarette flavorings to a potential increased risk of popcorn lung and other severe lung conditions. If you believe you have been adversely affected by side effects of e-cigarettes, consult a knowledgeable product liability lawyer today. You may have grounds to file an e-cig lawsuit against the device manufacturing company, in order to pursue financial compensation for your injuries and medical bills.

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