An electronic cigarette, or "e-cigarette," is a cigarette-shaped, battery-powered smoking device. It simulates smoking an actual cigarette, but uses a liquid substance instead of tobacco.

The liquid substance is vaporized, allowing the user to blow out what appears to be smoke, but is actually simply vapor. The liquid substance typically contains several chemicals, and may or may not contain nicotine.

Are E-Cigarettes Safe?

The safety of these devices is currently unclear. While some evidence suggests they are safer than cigarettes, there are serious concerns over the purity of and types of ingredients used in the liquid substance. Since this technology is new, any long-term biological issues are unknown.

While overall safety is yet to be determined, it is worth noting that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received over 50 complaints related to e-cigarettes, and is getting pressure to regulate this product in a similar way to how it regulates tobacco.

Finally, just because smoke is not being emitted does not mean chemicals are not being ingested or released. Studies indicate that the aerosol released from the e-cigarette vapors can have tin, nickel, other metals and a variety of toxic substances.

What are The Legal Issues Surrounding E-Cigarettes?

Major legal issues surrounding electronic cigarettes include:

  1. Inadequate Warning: One of the main legal issues surrounding e-cigarettes will be an inadequate warning. An inadequate warning occurs where the manufacturer, seller, or retailer (or potentially all three) advertised and sold a product with an inadequate warning. Since the rise of their popularity several years ago, these devices have been touted as "safer" than cigarettes. 
    1. Even if that may be true to some degree, if the manufacturers did not adequately warn of all the dangers potentially associated with e-cigarettes, they may nonetheless be liable.
  2. Consumer Protection: Similar to inadequate warnings, consumer protection groups may not only be lobbying for tighter regulations, but also potentially filing lawsuits under deceptive business practices and false advertising. 
    1. These claims are difficult to establish, and more evidence surrounding the safety of these products and the knowledge manufactures had or should have had.
  3. Negligence: Someone who suffers serious health problems as a consequence of using e-cigarettes may be able to seek compensation under a negligence theory. Negligence requires the injured party to show that the defendant’s breach of duty caused an injury to the plaintiff. 
    1. Thus, placing a dangerous product for sale that was dangerous or untested may expose these manufacturers to negligence lawsuits.

Certain e-cigarette companies are facing lawsuits for creating packaging/marketing that seems to be geared toward children. Their packages for their e-cigarette flavors use bright colors and appealing styles that are no longer allowed on cigarette packages. Time will tell if e-cigarettes will face the same regulations, but at the moment these companies are facing government lawsuits.

What about E-Cigarette Battery Explosions

One specific health and safety concern connected with e-cigarettes has to do with some of the battery components of these products. In particular, e-cigarettes have been associated with battery explosions, especially with some of the earlier product models.

These are similar to the battery explosions that are linked with cell phones, laptops, and other small electronic devices. For some e-cigarette models, there may be a risk of battery explosion. These can present injury risks such as:

  • Burn injuries;
  • Injuries to the face, especially the mouth and eyes;
  • Hand injuries; and/or
  • Various other injuries resulting from a small explosion.

Thus, e-cigarette battery explosions create additional health and safety risks apart from those linked with consumption of the product. There may also be issues with warning labels and inadequate warnings regarding battery explosions, in addition to the other health risks.

What if an E-Cigarette Product is Defective?

Another concern regarding e-cigarettes (as with any other product) is where the product is dangerous due to a defect of some sort. In such cases, it is likely that the manufacturer can be held liable for injuries that are caused by the specific defects. Such defects have the potential to harm many consumers if the products are distributed or sold with the defects still in place.

As mentioned above, inadequate warnings are one form of product defect that can form the basis of a lawsuit. Some other types of product defects that can apply to e-cigarette products include:

  • Design Defects: These types of defects make the product dangerous due to some error or shortcoming in the way the product is designed. For instance, if the design of an e-cigarette makes it more prone to overheating or exploding, the manufacturer might be held liable for any resulting injuries from the defect.
  • Manufacturing Defects: These occur where there is an error or failure during the assembly of the product. The design of the product might be sound, but there is an error in the way the product is put together at the plant or factory. 
    • For instance, if an e-cigarette product is assembled in such a way that an important shut-off feature is broken or omitted, it could result in additional fire or explosion hazards, which would then create legal liabilities for the manufacturer.

E-cigarette injury lawsuits can often result in a damages award. The damages might compensate the injured party for lost wages, medical bills, and other losses.

Should I Seek Legal Advice?

If you have been using e-cigarettes and have developed health issues, you should speaking with a local personal injury lawyer immediately. This is a novel product, and an experienced lawyer will know how to best construct a lawsuit.