Alarming words like crisis, outbreak, and epidemic have been used to depict the recent reports of vaping illnesses and deaths across the United States. “The Horror Stories From the Vaping Crisis Are Getting Worse,” is the title of one such attention-capturing headline for what has currently sickened more than 1,000 people and is linked to at least 19 deaths.
Those inflicted by contaminated vaping cite both e-cigarettes and tobacco vapes as the cause, with lower reports of cannabis vapes as the cause. No single product or isolated chemical has been identified as the cause of the sudden vaping-related illness, and according to the Wall Street Journal, researchers at the Mayo Clinic tested and ruled out the possible cause as being thickeners like vitamin E oil traditionally used in vaping oils.
But the concerns have been there all along.
As early as January of this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics published an abstract on e-cigarettes and vaping devices with particular concern for their effects on adolescents. “E-cigarette companies commonly advertise that e-cigarettes contain nicotine, flavoring chemicals, and humectants (propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin), but toxicants, ultrafine particles, and carcinogens have also been found in e-cigarette solutions and emissions, many of which are known to cause adverse health effects,” the abstract reports.
What Advocates And Activists Think
For the most part, cannabis advocates and activists have pointed to e-cigarettes as the primary cause for these vaping illnesses and deaths. Those caused by cannabis products have effectively proven to be black-market products made popular by lower price points than legal, highly-taxed counterparts.
Dialogue on the subject and debate on the vaping crisis is extensive, and social media is where some great dialogue occurs.
“Vape pens are not good for you. I knew that years ago after a few hits,” Banned Members of City and County Regulation Watch Facebook cannabis group member Chris Mckay opined about vaping. But his assertion was quickly retorted by Shaun Murray who pointed out, “Years ago the hardware was v1.0 chinese and the oil was suspended in PG, VG, or PEG due to lack of alternatives in a fledgling industry. Now there is [sic] hardware options that are CA Prop 65 Certified, and the product is distilled and can be viscosity-adjusted with cannabis-derived terpenes. You can literally get a cartridge with only cannabis-derived compounds in it... in this form there is no problem; the problem arises when foreign adulterants are used as cuts or liquifiers.”
In the LinkedIn group, Cannabis Medical and Recreational Insider, enterprise author Foster Winans published a link to his Medium post citing vape test results from leading cannabis testing lab, CannaSafe that illustrate contaminated vape cartridges coming exclusively from the illicit black-market. The company analyzed 104 vape cartridges bought from licensed sources and found them all clean. At the same time, Cannasafe also tested a dozen bootleg cartridges finding a possible contaminant in 40%, and pesticides in 100%, with all containing myclobutanil, a fungicide that produces cyanide when heated above 400 degrees fahrenheit.
For Darryl Cotton, owner of 151 Farms, increased access to the legal market is quickly needed. “We need to provide more public awareness of the pesticides, thickening agents and overall toxic substances most often found in underground cannabis products, which are most heavily concentrated and acutely hazardous among underground vape products,” he posted to the aforementioned Facebook group, “Lowering taxes would help increase people choosing licensed vapes vs over unlicensed as well.”
At the same time, some cannabis industry advocacy groups have taken formal positions on the crisis and actively shared their positions through social media.
The Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce (GACC), a trade organization representing a major cross-section of the global cannabis industry, recently partnered with solo* sciences to offer technology that will enable consumers to instantly authenticate vaping products and signal counterfeits. Through the partnership, solo* sciences will be offering GACC members a substantial discount on anti-counterfeiting, instant product recall solo*CODETM technology.
The California Cannabis Coalition published a thorough, 25-page report, the “State of Emergency; Vaping Lung Disease and Fatality Epidemic,” featuring research conducted prior to the vaping outbreak, overview of the crisis, nationwide measures being implemented, and others.
Ryan Bacchas, chairman and founder of the California Cannabis Coalition, stated in a written interview, “This is a result of a highly regulated industry which has barred a majority of participants, pushing them to operate under ground due to high barrier to entry into markets such as California, which has not encouraged scaling economies such as artisan, craft, and general social enterprise models.” He continued, “The second is yet another byproduct of Federal Prohibition.”
The Coalition offers a two-pronged approach to solving the epidemic. First, that from this recent crisis the FDA acts to develop a regulatory scheme and framework to not only deschedule cannabis but, effectively regulate it through Federal legislation. Second, that education and shaping new regulatory standards with efficacy practices that will bring about a sensible, sustainable, business model to provide consumers with safe products.
In Los Angeles, California, a year-long ban on cannabis vape sales is being considered. At the end of October, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban flavored tobacco products, including menthol, and called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to pass a statewide ban on vaping. But, according to cannabis and fashion PR expert and founder of Gallery PR, Sonia Hendrix, a year-long ban is not the right solution. She tweeted, “Clearing up LA’s illicit market, on the other hand, would be a positive solution.”
In Massachusetts in late September, Gov. Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency enacting a 4-month temporary ban on sales of vaping products of all types. Dillon Harris of Albany, Georgia made a prediction of the ban’s byproduct in a Facebook group, “All the mom and pop businesses will close and amazon will deliver it tomorrow.”
Massachuletts cannabis activists quickly launched a Facebook group dedicated to protesting the ban, as well. Replete with an anti-Charlie Baker icon, the End the Vape Ban in Massachusetts group was developed to bring people together who are being negatively affected by “this short sighted ban.”
Vermont and Maine politicians are considering bans on vaping after Massachusetts’ lead. But Regulate Vermont on Twitter stresses that cannabis regulation, including accessibility to legal products, is the route to curbing this type of epidemic.
“With roughly 80,000 Vermonters using cannabis in any given month, we infer that approximately 20,000 Vermonters vape THC,” an article they shared stated. “Aside from the state’s small network of medical cannabis dispensaries, which serve the roughly 5,000 registered patients statewide, the sole source of supply for this product is the unregulated “street” market – where god-knows-what is mixed into the cartridge in order to maximize profits, consumer safety be damned.”
In Ohio, the state’s governor called for a ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarette vaping products, including mint and menthol, although the ban will not include tobacco-flavored products. At the same time, Ohio’s popular cannabis publication, “Ohio Cannabusiness Magazine” offered its readers helpful ways to identify and avoid illicit products with a product chart and recent Instagram post.
Arizona governor Doug Ducey is taking an alternate route to the vaping crisis as he shared doubt that e-cigarette vape flavors like bubble gum and root beer are designed solely to attract children. “What I don’t want to do is take someone who is addicted (to nicotine), restrict them from finding a product and push them to the black market,” the governor continued. “So we’re going to take a measured approach.”
This, to which Twitter user DonoVapesTVL posted, “So happy the governor of Arizona, @dougducey, in the state where I reside, is taking a much different and acceptable approach to vaping!! Thank you Gov. Ducey for believing in healthier options for your constituents to quit smoking! @NYGovCuomo @GovWhitmer @MassGovernor Read Up”
The governor’s view is similar to that of Illinois State Senator Toi Hutchinson who has the ride idea, having stated, “I don’t want to push people into trying to figure out how to get things off-market and illicitly.” Instead of calling for a ban on all THC vaping products, Hutchinson is pushing for further regulation to ensure legal products are safe. Noting that a ban to thoroughly-tested, regulated cannabis products would force people to purchase from the black market, from where the problem derives in the first place.
What she’s saying echoes what many cannabis activists and advocates are sharing on social media, as well.
Lead photo by Javier Hasse.
Andre Bourque is a cannabis industry connector, executive advisor to several cannabis companies, brand strategy advisor, and a cannabis industry analyst. In addition to Benzinga, Andre’s articles have been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Yahoo Finance, CIO Magazine & ComputerWorld.
You can connect with him at @socialmktgfella on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.
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