On Tuesday, lawyers filed what appeared to be the first-ever legal complaint accusing embattled vape powerhouse JUUL Labs of being directly responsible for the death of a teenager.
Marie Vail, the mother of 18-year-old Daniel Wakefield, who passed away due to “breathing complications” in 2018, has brought a wrongful death suit against JUUL, VICE reported.
“We anticipated this being the next big thing,” Mahzad Hite, an attorney at Levin Simes Abrams, told VICE. “As the science started to develop, and as the crisis took off, now doctors are seeing these issues and finally asking their patients if they vape.”
According to the suit, Wakefield was an otherwise active teenager until he began vaping JUUL products when he was 15 years old. His mood and behaviour changed as a result, causing him to lose interest in academics, dropping out of high school, and, in one case, chuck a mini fridge from the top floor of his house when he wasn’t able to vape, the lawsuit continues. Wakefield was attracted, the attorneys alleged, to JUUL’s “candy-like flavors, sleek and discreet design, and its representations that it was a healthier alternative to combustible cigarettes.”
Wakefield, who had suffered from asthma, reportedly consulted his mother about his vaping, saying that he “read materials indicating JUUL was safe and did not pose the health risks that accompany combustible cigarettes.” When he was 16, he was hospitalized for a few days—because of “breathing and lung complications”—and staff even went so far as to provide him with nicotine patches during his brief stay.
Vail’s lawyers insisted Wakefield’s asthma was not a persistent problem in his young adult life, and that Wakefield didn’t even really use an inhaler, although the death certificate lists asthma as the cause of death. The lawsuit itself cites studies that have claimed e-cigarettes could possibly cause—or at least exacerbate—asthma.
The lawsuit comes as almost 1,300 vape-related illnesses have been reported, with at least 26 people dying as a result. Due to the relative inaction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), states have begun issuing temporary bans on flavoured, or sometimes all, e-cigarettes, with several bans being battled by e-cigarette manufacturers in state courts.