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California man attempts e-cig lawsuit

Do they or don’t they help tobacco smokers quit?

A California man named Eric McGovern is attempting to bring a class action suit against e-cig maker Njoy, on the grounds that e-cigs are allegedly not as harmless as they claim to be, and also that it is inconsistent regarding whether it does or does not help smokers give up the habit.

Courthouse News Service reports that McGovern’s suit claims that e-cig vapor contains the “same impurities and the same cancer-causing agents as traditional cigarettes” (though the levels of such substances in tobacco smoke vs. e-cig vapor are not specified).

E-cigs are marketed as the less-harmful alternative to cigarette smoking, though this has not prevented criticism from those opposed to any use of nicotine, regardless of form. For example: last November, researchers at UC San Francisco released a report criticizing e-cigs for being “the new phase of the nicotine epidemic” and claiming that, instead of reducing the number of nicotine addicts (read: smokers of tobacco) in the world, e-cigs actually increase the number of nicotine addicts (read: inhalers of e-cig vapor).

However, traditional opposition to tobacco smoking was based not on opposition to nicotine use per se, but to the very real health risks that come from regularly inhaling pure tobacco smoke into your lungs. So the debate on whether e-cigs are good, bad or neutral could also be reframed as a debate over what, exactly, is bad about traditional cigarette smoking: is it bad only because of the harmfulness of the smoke? Or should we assume any use of nicotine is bad, even if smoke damage is removed from the equation?

The Courthouse News article about McGovern’s lawsuit also reports this apparent non-sequitur:

Njoy touts e-cigarettes as a safe alternative by implying that its product is as safe as vegetables and plants that contain nicotine, McGovern says.

“In reality, a typical consumer would need to ingest, as an example, 244 grams of tomatoes to equal the amount of nicotine a passive smoker would absorb in about three hours in a room with a minimal amount of tobacco smoke,” the 25-page lawsuit states.

Assuming this is accurate, it still conflates two different things: the question of whether nicotine-containing plants can safely be ingested is entirely different from the question of how many plants one must ingest specifically to get a certain dose of nicotine. (If cigarette addicts jonesing for a nicotine fix are in the habit of eating tomatoes instead, this trend has not yet received mainstream media coverage.)

And, of course, neither question addresses how much nicotine one might expect from a typical e-cig dose, let alone how much if any nicotine passive non-e-cig users could expect if they sat in a room with an e-cig user.

McGovern is being represented by Brian Chase, a personal injury lawyer out of Newport Beach.

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