Five Pawns Class-Action Lawsuit, Vaping Ingredients, and What It Means
In November of 2015, Duane Robert Greene, Shawn Randall Thomas and James Hirtzel filed a class-action lawsuit against the vape company Five Pawns, based in Irvine, California, for the sum of $5 million over deceptive claims about its products — namely that their products had tested positive for acetyl propionyl, a chemical known to have respiratory effects when inhaled over a long period of time.
The plaintiffs, who are represented by a New York law firm, have claimed no injuries or medical problems relating to their consumption of the products sold by Five Pawns, but rather claim that the company engaged in misinformation by failing to disclose the full ingredient list to their products, some of which include acetyl propionyl.
Because there is no set regulation for vaping products in the US, this lawsuit stands at the edge of vaping legislation history. While the outcome of the suit is not yet known, it is important to note that public documents show that Five Pawns refused an out-of-court settlement as late as July of 2015. This means that this fight may yet make it to trial.
So why should you, a vaper, care? Why does the lawsuit affect you, and how will it affect vaping going forward? Read on to learn about Diacetyl, the new FDA categorization of tobacco (which is pending), and what it means to vaping companies.
Diacetyl - What You Need To Know
Alright, so we know that the lawsuit alleges that amounts far exceeding the recommended allowance of acetyl propionyl (AP) were found in Five Pawns e-liquids. If you’ve read other articles on this, you’ll be aware that AP is a sister chemical of diacetyl, and that’s what we’re going to talk about here.
Diacetyl is a naturally occurring chemical. It’s found in low concentrations in foods like dairy, coffee, tobacco, vinegar, and butter, among others. It’s also a natural byproduct of a process that converts glucose to ethanol by yeast — a process that happens when making beer.
Most generally, diacetyl is known for giving you that extra buttery taste in butter and other margarine products, and has been used to flavor microwavable popcorn and baked goods.
So it’s basically everywhere.
Why does this matter to vapers? Because diacetyl does have some worrying effects, especially for manufacturing company employees. Being exposed to high levels of diacetyl has previously been linked to rare respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, and in rare cases, lung disease — also known as popcorn lung — for popcorn and chemical manufacturing workers.
Diacetyl has been found in some e-liquids, namely the ones who carry a cream or pastry flavor profile. This is because diacetyl is used as a flavoring to create that pastry-crust, buttery flavor. While not all e-liquid companies use it, most companies that do include diacetyl have been found to use 100 times less the amount of diacetyl in their products than is found in tobacco.
So, yes. Some companies use diacetyl. Can you develop a respiratory illness from it? Sure — if you are vaping 15ml of an e-liquid that uses diacetyl everyday for years. It’s important to remember that while there are effects, it takes years of constant inhalation of these e-liquids for you to be affected.
The same can’t be said for tobacco products, which are known for being addictive and contain more harmful ingredients that just diacetyl.
FDA Regulations on Vaping Ingredients
As of June of 2015, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not regulate vaping products, e-cigarettes, or juices, unless they are marketed for therapeutic purposes. It is, however, in the process of attempting to extend the agency’s tobacco authority to cover e-cigarettes and vaping products.
Vaping companies are behind regulation, believing that the industry needs to have high standards their clients can rely on. But few believe that the tobacco classification is a fair one.
Tobacco products, like traditional cigarettes and cigars, hold just one common ingredient — nicotine — and nothing else. And while there are questions about the types of ingredients used in lower-grade vape products, the idea that e-liquids and cigarettes are the same is a little far-reaching, even for the FDA.
While the extending authorities ruling is still pending, many in the vape community is wondering what it will mean for companies that supply the e-liquids. The FDA has an unfortunate history of selectively choosing ingredients to regulate at times that suit them, as well as a track record that is nowhere near as strict as EU health standards, so it could be as little as 6 months after the rule is put into practice or as long as five years of studying before change hits vaping.
The Effects of the Lawsuit on Vaping in America
So far, the lawsuit does not seem like a big deal. After all, the individuals who formed the lawsuit have not suffered any injuries themselves, and it is more a fight about labeling all ingredients in an e-juice, even in trace amounts. And the reported $5 million the individuals are asking for makes it clear that the lawsuit isn’t so much about actual malaise happing to vapers, but more about an opportunity to exploit an industry that is still in its infancy.
But the idea that the FDA is categorizing vape products as tobacco products here in America has broad implications for the companies involved. You will see smaller bespoke companies fall by the wayside, as they will not be able to keep up with the demand for test results, or they will find themselves in a holding pattern as the FDA figures out what is acceptable and not acceptable for vaping products.
It also means that the fight to lump vaping and smoking together — a fight started by Big Tobacco nearly a decade ago — is becoming successful. The tobacco industry hasn’t won outright, but if this lawsuit attracts similar lawsuits, the vaping community will find themselves struggling to find even ground with the tobacco behemoth.
Vapers stateside have been passionate about the idea that vaping can help you quit smoking altogether by allowing you to vape safer products that don’t have the laundry list of carcinogens that are including in traditional cigarettes. The fight is supported by scientific studies, by personal anecdotes, and by vapers across the country.
What Can You Do?
If the thought of an established vape company like Five Pawns getting hit with a lawsuit throws you off-balance, don’t let it. Don’t let yourself be afraid or scared off, because the truth is that you aren’t getting all of the information.
An informed vaper is a passionate vaper with common sense. Read. Research. If you hear of something like diacetyl or AP and you don’t know what it means, look it up. Go to Wikipedia, then head for scientific studies. Remind yourself that when it comes to vaping, studies can be biased. Look up studies on the ingredients related to vaping and then look up studies unrelated to vaping. Chances are you’ll find differences, but the similarities are going to be closer to the truth than anything else.
Read, read, and when you think you can’t stomach anything else, read some more. Misinformation is the easiest thing to find, especially when you’re researching the vaping industry. It’s a tactic used to scare off the public, but you? You’re not part of the public. You want the truth. And you’re going to have to dig for real information.
And use your common sense. If something doesn’t feel right to you, think about why. And if you think about why and you still don’t feel right about it, don’t. Do. It.
Remember, chaps — misinformation isn’t true information. Stay informed. And if diacetyl isn’t your thing, there are several e-liquids that don’t use diacetyl at all.
It’s all up to you.
Note: This writer is waiting for comments from Five Pawns about the lawsuit, and the article will be updated when that information becomes available.