In early September 2019, President Trump expressed an urgency to ban vaping products.
In the wake of this announcement, the Center for Drug Control (CDC) reported that 1,299 confirmed and probable lung injury cases were associated with e-cigarette or vaping products.
In addition, the CDC confirmed 26 deaths related to vaping products. However, this wasn’t the first instance of bad press for vaping.
A History of the Vaping Crisis
Like many of today’s technologies, vaping and e-cigarettes seemed to skyrocket in popularity overnight. The credit is largely due to Juul.
Founded in 2015, the company set out to develop a cigarette alternative for those trying to wean themselves off of smoking. Since then, the company has become a verb, and in 2017 claimed over a third of the e-cigarette market, generating $224 million in revenue.
But, just as the company was skyrocketing, it began to receive scrutiny for how many minors were using their products, prompting a full investigation from the FDA and a crackdown on those selling Juuls to minors.
Despite the negative press, sales continued to soar.
Then, in April 2019, Democrats in the U.S. Senate launched an investigation into Juul’s social media and advertising practices (the majority of their Twitter followers are minors), along with its billion-dollar deal with tobacco giant Altria.
Two months later, the U.S. House of Representatives announced its own investigation into Juul.
Vaping, since its inception, has largely been marketed as a healthy alternative to smoking. When it comes to cannabis, it also claimed to allow for more precise dosing.
However, the problem with the rapid rollout of modern technology is that if often takes a few years for proper research to be conducted, often long after the product has been popularized.
“The shift to ‘panic’ consists of two parts,” explains Oleg Maryasis, founder of Lock & Key, a hemp and CBD oil company.
“First, there was a complete lack of consumer education before the panic, resulting in consumers being completely naive regarding the contents of the products they were inhaling. Once people began getting sick and dying, the panic began due to the lack of understanding of the causes.”
This is what made it so jarring when the CDC announced on October 10, 2019, that 1,299 people had suffered lung injury due to vaping, and 29 deaths had were vaping-related. By October 22, that death count reached 34.
What is the Cause?
The issue in question has expanded far beyond Juul, with government officials looking at all vaping technology. Even worse for the cannabis industry, a September 2019 report from the CDC suggested that THC specifically may have a role in this outbreak of lung injury.
“The latest findings from the investigation into lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping, suggest THC products play a role in the outbreak. Most of the people (77%) in this outbreak reported using THC-containing products, or both THC-containing products and nicotine-containing products.”
While nothing is proven yet and the investigation is still ongoing, this is not a great start for the cannabis industry, with which vaping is closely associated.
However, the focus as of late hasn’t necessarily been on THC or nicotine, but rather the other materials in these products; things like Vitamin E acetate, heavy metals, etc.
“The investigations are revealing the cause of these horrific cases are for a number of reasons, all of which have to do with the integrity of the concentrate being ingested and the quality of the technology being used to ingest it,” explained Peter Calfee, CEO of Gofire, a leading company in vaping technology.
In mid-October 2019, Gofire released a statement calling for companies to cease using additives in their products. “In our statement, we wanted to call out some specific additives like Vitamin E Acetate and Propylene Glycol because they are among the most commonly used in the industry.
Traditionally, Vitamin E Acetate is used in dermatology in various skin creams and other products. Propylene Glycol is used in the production of certain polymers and is also used in some oral, topical, and intravenous pharmaceuticals.
Both substances are approved for those stated uses in the United States. However, when you heat these chemical compounds they can become very dangerous and they were never intended to be used for inhalation.” (See story on page 64 of the winter 2019 issue).
What will a crackdown on vaping products look like for the cannabis industry? Already, we’re seeing a handful of states, including Colorado, raise their minimum e-cigarette purchase age to 21, and a bill introduced in April 2019, if passed, would raise the national minimum age to 21.
Luckily, discussions have moved away from a full-on vaping ban. Following up his call to ban all vaping products, Trump turned to Twitter: “While I like the Vaping alternative to Cigarettes, we need to make sure this alternative is SAFE for ALL! Let’s get counterfeits off the market, and keep young children from Vaping!”
While an all-out ban on vaping products may be an extreme response, most people should agree that some sort of regulation over vaping is in order.
As Maryasis expresses, “Without logical regulations, the burden is the consumer’s to do their due diligence and be cautious with what they consume.”
And while consumers should be knowledgeable of what they’re consuming, it is also on the part of businesses and the government to make sure the consumer is protected.
In our interview with him, Former President of Mexico Vicente Fox expressed the importance of protecting the consumer: “Government presence, government regulations, and especially health authorities have generally been taking care of the consumer, because, on the one side, you have many fake products that have to be abolished from the marketplace.”
Since it is a separate entity, federal regulations for vaping can be implemented before federal cannabis regulations come along. “Although vaping would be the overlapping middle in a Venn diagram between cannabis and nicotine, safe vaping regulations/protocols can definitely be set up before federal legalization of cannabis,” Maryasis explains.
“With that said, such regulations would be followed only be legal businesses, whereas the underground-market would remain lawless until legalization comes about. Unfortunately, most of the illnesses and deaths have been from products made and sold by the underground market.”
The solution is two-fold: regulation and education. The government needs to step in and regulate what companies can and can’t put in their products.
Luckily, this step is already beginning. However, it may be difficult for federal regulation to reach the illicit market, at least in the case of cannabis vapes, until the substance is legal on the federal level.
In the meantime, those legal companies who do care about their customers also need to police themselves and others in the industry.
When Gofire was readying to release their statement on vaping additives, they were hesitant at first, not wanting to create more alarm around the subject. “But, we ultimately felt it was – and is – the right thing to do, to hold ourselves and the industry accountable,” Calfee said.
“It was really disturbing when we began to see the reports of illness and deaths. We felt a moral obligation to lead.”
Finally, it is important that consumers educate themselves on the potential dangers of vaping and know the products that they are using.
Calfee offers a few tips for consumers: “Once you’ve found a product you want to use, be sure to review its ingredients and make sure it doesn’t contain anything you don’t want. Pay attention to the product brands you’re using and make sure they are reputable and concerned with safety.
Ask questions when you’re at a retailer. Check out the websites of the brands you purchase. The brands on Gofire’s platform all provide verified third-party lab results available to view in the Gofire app… Finally, never use black market products, plain and simple, and never use products when you can’t identify exactly what you’re putting in your body.”