A student from Syracuse University is suing Juul Labs, the e-cigarette company, after experiencing "catastrophic personal injury" about two years after he started using the company's products.
Maxwell Berger, 22, suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in July 2017 that paralyzed the left side of the body, causing him to lose half his vision in both eyes and leading to cognitive impairment and brain damage, according to the lawsuit filed in July 2019. He started using Juul in 2015 and eventually used up to two pods a day around the time of stroke.
Berger claims that the e-cigarette played a significant role in his injuries. The lawsuit comes because there are more than 400 reported cases of lung disease related to the vaping or use of e-cigarettes ̵
The 41 cases reported to the New York State Department of Health involve the use of at least one vape product containing cannabis before they became ill. The department announced Thursday that vitamin E oil appeared in almost all samples containing cannabis analyzed. The oil is now the main focus of the study.
While hospitalized for more than 100 days, Berger had three brain surgeons and experienced a severe withdrawal of nicotine, which led to doctors giving him a nicotine patch. The lawsuit did not explicitly state whether Berger experienced any lung disease.
"While he has and will continue to fight for his betterment and to live as normal a life as possible, Mr. Berger's brain and other physical injuries have led him to become more withdrawn, depressed, aggressive and impatient with family and friends, "the lawsuit states.
Berger is listed in SU's catalog as a youth at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. He did not respond to requests for comment sent to the university's email address. Berger is represented by the law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP. Sarah London, a lawyer representing Berger, was not available for an interview.
We have launched an aggressive action plan to combat underage use, as it is antithetical to our mission. To the extent that this case claims otherwise, it is without prejudice and we will defend our mission throughout this process.
Ted Kwong, spokesman for Juul Labs
The lawsuit also alleges that Juul, other e-cigarette companies, researchers and marketers did not disclose the health risks associated with their products. Berger was first exposed to Juul ads in mid-2015 during his high school, according to the lawsuit.
"Companies are advertising these things as harmless, and we see more and more now that is not the case," said Karyn Johnson, program coordinator for the Onondaga County Health Department's tobacco program.
Berger developed an addiction to Juul, which contains the highly addictive chemical nicotine, within weeks of first using the product, the lawsuit claims. He frequently used Juul products through July 2017, eventually reaching a point where he inhaled from the device every 10 to 20 minutes, according to the lawsuit.
Before using Juul, Berger had no nicotine addiction. He did not know the devices contained the chemical when he first started using, according to the lawsuit.
Ted Kwong, a Juul spokesman, said in an email to The Daily Orange that the company's product is only meant to be an option for adults who already smoke.
Kwong said that underage use is contrary to Juul's mission. "To the extent that this case claims otherwise, it is without prejudice and we will defend our mission through this process," he said.
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Juul Labs implemented an action plan in November 2018 to deal with Juul's minor use. The company stopped the distribution of mango, cream, cucumber and fruit Juul pod flavors. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in September 2018 that e-cigarette flavors are contributing to their youth appeal. The flavors are now sold only on the company's website, which now has controls to restrict users under 21 from purchasing products.
Johnson said that Juul devices and other e-cigarettes may contain more nicotine t His regular cigarettes are a "concerning" difference.
"People can become addicted to these products and not even understand what they are getting into their body," Johnson said.  In the state of New York, 27.4% of high school students have used e-cigarettes, she said.
Cuomo announced Monday that he will propose legislation that prohibits flavored e-cigarettes. The state health department will also provide emergency regulations requiring warning signs posted in all gun and smoke stores across the state.
The governor also ordered the department to issue subpoenas to three companies found to have marketed thickening agents – almost pure vitamin E oil – to vape liquid manufacturers. The founding companies will be required to assist the department's investigation. Juul was not among them.
"The increase in weapon-associated diseases is a daunting public health phenomenon, and I order the Ministry of Health to take several measures to resolve this crisis," Cuomo said.
Published on September 10, 2019 at 23.15
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