Internal documents obtained by federal regulators from the makers of the widely used JUUL e-cigarettes brand reveal that the company received more than 2,600 consumer complaints about injuries and illnesses related to its e-cigarette products during the first three years they were on the market. According to the documents, detailed in an internal report released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under the federal Freedom of Information Act, JUUL users cited issues like vomiting, blistered lips, burning sensations in the lungs and other adverse health consequences allegedly caused by problems with JUUL pods leaking highly concentrated nicotine into their mouths. In one “serious adverse event,” a woman reported that a mango flavored JUUL pod caused her to cough so violently that her throat began to bleed.
The consumer complaints submitted to JUUL Labs were reportedly contained in the company’s internal database, which the FDA reviewed as part of an inspection of the company’s San Francisco headquarters in September 2018. According to the FDA, the company’s database logged nearly 1.3 million complaints between June 2015 – when JUUL Labs first launched its e-cigarette product – and September 2018. Upon reviewing the database, FDA officials found that only 317 of the complaints were categorized as “health experiences” or “health events,” which the company defined as an “illness, safety concern, or adverse event that a customer attributes to using JUUL products, or an unintended exposure to JUUL products, which may or may not have involved a visit to a health-care provider.” However, the company later uncovered an additional 2,300 adverse event complaints involving JUUL products that weren’t logged by the database.
Roughly 156,000 of the consumer complaints contained in the FDA report involved events in which problems with JUUL pods caused the e-cigarette’s potent nicotine liquid to leak into users’ mouths, resulting in symptoms ranging from canker sores, fever, chills and lightheadedness to pain in the mouth, burning sensations in the lungs and numbness or tingling of the mouth and lips. One complaint detailed an especially serious reaction to JUUL’s mango-flavored pods. “I tried to utilize the starter packs pods and the fruit flavor was so harsh that it made me cough to the point where my throat started to bleed,” the customer said. She went to her doctor and was prescribed an antibiotic to treat what was diagnosed as a “burned throat.” JUUL’s mango flavored pods were removed from the market in October, along with the company’s other fruity and candy-like flavors, due to increasing concerns that such flavored nicotine products were designed to attract teens and non-smokers.
According to Austin Finan, a spokesperson for JUUL Labs, the company reviewed the adverse event reports and determined that leaking JUUL pods “did not constitute a significant health hazard” to consumers. And rather than issuing a recall to address the ongoing problem with leaking pods, the company simply “offered consumers free product replacements or percentage off coupons” for new JUUL products, the FDA report indicates. This is likely due to the fact that, per FDA requirements, if the company had made any changes to the design of the JUUL pods, it would have been required to submit a new marketing application for FDA approval, which could have taken years to obtain.
JUUL Labs has faced increased scrutiny recently for a wide variety of reasons, apart from failing to effectively address problems with JUUL pods leaking liquid nicotine into users’ mouths. Most notably, the company has been accused of illegally marketing its e-cigarette products to children and making unapproved claims about the safety of JUUL products and their ability to help users quit smoking. The company has also been criticized for fueling the epidemic of teen nicotine addiction in the United States, which is what caused federal regulators to begin taking steps in 2018 to curb the rise in popularity of JUUL products among youth. On January 2, the FDA announced a ban on all cartridge-based e-cigarettes (other than tobacco and menthol) that appeal to young users, including fruit and mint flavors.
In addition to growing concerns about JUUL e-cigarettes being deliberately marketed to children, thereby exposing them to a lifetime of nicotine addiction, JUUL Labs has also come under fire for the design of its “e-liquid” pods, which are reported to contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. There are also lingering questions about the safety of vaping as a whole, including the potential long-term health effects of repeatedly inhaling the chemicals found in e-liquids, which can include formaldehyde, propylene glycol, benzoic acid, vegetable glycerin and any number of flavoring compounds. If you or someone you love has been adversely affected by JUUL pods or another type of potentially harmful e-cigarette product, contact an experienced e-cigarette injury attorney today for legal help. You may have grounds to file a legal claim against the device manufacturing company, in order to pursue financial compensation for your injuries and losses.