Las Vegas Takes Brunt of State’s Vape Injuries, Harbors Split Views

Benson & Bingham

Longtime Nevada residents will have an unshakeable sense that casinos and smoking are linked. Gamblers or not, those who frequented the state’s casinos to eat at premier restaurants, consume specialty entertainment, or enjoy the amenities of high-end hotels knew that they had to pass through the hazy casino floor en route to their destination. Much of that changed in 2006, when Nevada voters enacted a ban on most indoor smoking. [1] But the associated health gains may be eroding, as growing concerns over Las Vegas vape injuries reveal.

The Smoking Ban 

Nevada’s history of smoking bans cannot fully be discussed without reference to the state’s westerly neighbor: California. Long a national leader in health advocacy, California first adopted a smoking ban in 1995 that applied to most enclosed workplaces. [2] While enforcement of the ban in all areas of the country’s most populous state has proved elusive, [3] to the extent that the policy has changed over the years it has almost entirely been in an expansionary way. The ban was extended to bars and restaurants, areas around openings in public buildings, and vehicles containing minor children. [4] New legislation extends the ban still further, barring smoking from the state’s popular parks and beaches. [5] Beverly Hills potentially made history earlier this year when it enacted a total ban on tobacco sales within city limits. [6]

Against this backdrop – and a demographic shift reflecting an increasingly health-conscious Nevada population – voters in 2006 enacted a smoking ban at the ballot box. Nevada’s ban contained several carve outs at the time of its initial passage, and lawmakers added additional exemptions in the years after the ban was first implemented. Today the exemptions include:

  • Gaming areas of casinos, if minors are legally barred from loitering
  • Completely enclosed bars and other areas where no one under age may enter
  • Brothels and strip clubs
  • Retail tobacco stores
  • Certain areas of convention facilities during tobacco-related trade shows
  • Private residences, including those used as an office workplace except if it is used in the business of child care or health care [7]

As elsewhere, the purpose of these smoking bans is to achieve several public-health objectives. With growing awareness of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, policymakers know that limiting the public’s overall exposure to tobacco smoke will improve health outcomes for all Nevadans. Additionally, to the extent that these policies make smoking a more burdensome and costly habit – costly in every sense, from the financial cost of purchasing tobacco products that are heavily taxed to the social cost of an activity that is barred in many areas – it will provide an additional incentive to smokers to quit using tobacco products and a disincentive for would-be smokers to take up the habit.

The tobacco industry suffered mightily from the massive wave of litigation that held it accountable for the harmful effects of its product. These cases unfolded over the 1980s and 1990s, and by the early 2000s most tobacco litigation was settled. [8] Part of the plaintiffs’ gains from this litigation was resources to support smoking cessation and to raise public awareness of the health risks of tobacco, and in recent years tobacco use was in decline. Young people were showing an increased aversion to taking up smoking, which portended significant health improvements for the nation’s future. But as electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes, e-cigs, or vape products) have become popular, young people have embraced them. With this change has come an increase in youth exposure to tobacco products and even an increased use of conventional tobacco. [9]

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Las Vegas Bears Brunt of Nevada’s Vape Injuries

As if the increase in tobacco use among young people was not concerning enough, e-cigarettes and other so-called vaping devices are increasingly being linked to serious health issues. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency that focuses on public health concerns, nearly 1,300 cases of lung injury from vaping have been reported nationwide. These injuries have been reported in nearly all U.S. states, and Nevada has been home to five of those injuries. While none of the 26 reported vape injury deaths have occurred in Nevada, Clark County has seen four of the state’s five vaping injuries. [10] Clark County contains about two-thirds of the state’s population, but it has been home to four-fifths of the vaping injuries. [11]

Against this background, the state’s attorney general has been pushing a message: if you use e-cigarettes or other vape products, buy them from a reputable, regulated dealer. [12] While the exact risks of e-cigs remain dimly understood, researchers and doctors worry that chemicals in the so-called “vape juice” may be causing damage to lungs. The safety of these chemicals in the human body is dubious to begin with, and the risks are likely heightened when these substances are heated to a high temperature and inhaled deeply into the lungs.

One of the victims of these injuries is a 22-year-old Las Vegas man who claims that he nearly died on two occasions after using vaping devices. After his first close-call he swore off the devices, but he tried one “hit” of a friend’s vape pen and immediately suffered serious health effects. He is speaking out to discourage others from using vape devices. [13] On the other hand, a woman who credits e-cigs with helping her finally kick her tobacco addiction warns that a heavy reaction to these injuries may deny a valuable – and arguably life-extending – product to those who need it. [14]

The science of vaping remains little understood, and this issue will likely consume public debate for years to come. What is clear is that the vape manufacturers must be held responsible for injuries caused by their products. If you or a loved one have been harmed by using vape products, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer for advice.

[1] http://www.tobaccofreenv.org/priorities/clean-indoor-air/nevada-clean-indoor-air-act

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_smoking_bans_in_the_United_States#California

[3] http://www.cnn.com/US/9801/23/smoking.ban

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_smoking_bans_in_the_United_States#California

[5] https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-10-11/californians-banned-smoking-state-parks-beaches

[6] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/06/05/beverly-hills-approves-tobacco-ban-first-us/1361229001

[7] http://www.tobaccofreenv.org/priorities/clean-indoor-air/nevada-clean-indoor-air-act

[8] https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/tobacco-litigation-history-and-development-32202.html

[9] https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/youth-and-tobacco/2018-nyts-data-startling-rise-youth-e-cigarette-use

[10] https://news3lv.com/news/local/nevadas-attorney-general-warning-consumers-about-purchasing-street-sold-vape-products

[11] https://www.reviewjournal.com/local/4th-case-of-vaping-related-illness-reported-in-clark-county-1870992

[12] https://news3lv.com/news/local/nevadas-attorney-general-warning-consumers-about-purchasing-street-sold-vape-products

[13] https://news3lv.com/news/local/las-vegas-man-says-vaping-gave-him-popcorn-lung-nearly-killed-him-twice

[14] https://news3lv.com/news/local/vaping-saved-my-life-e-cigarette-advocates-suspicious-of-crackdown-on-vaping-devices

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