Vaping Produces Industry Challenges, Opportunities

by | Sep 6, 2019

Detroiter Karhlyle Fletcher is the host of High Lit, a cannabis research and classic literature podcast featuring leading voices and independent music. In addition to years in written and video cannabis journalism, he is also a traditional author.

Vaping THC and nicotine is often promoted as a healthier alternative to smoking, but there is no evidence to support this perspective. In fact, several of the harmful chemicals in cigarettes have also been found in vape oils.  

Different Doesn’t Mean Better

While vapes may lack the typical feel or weight of smokable products, they aren’t necessarily any safer. White Claw hard seltzer water is a wildly popular drink because it’s easy to drink, but that doesn’t make it any healthier for the general public. Consumer overconsumption is always an issue and cannot be controlled.

In addition to this, there is the inadequate regulation of vape products, and the counterfeiting of cartridges, meaning that there’s no way to tell what chemicals are being sold within these products. Several of the ingredients used in oils are food safe, but that does not mean that they are safe to vape.

Doctors are not able to discern what is the precise cause of these hospitalizations, but they do expect permanent lung damage to several people who have been affected. Several require days hooked up to a ventilator because they are not able to breathe normally. Others are experiencing chest pain, vomiting, and difficulty breathing.

While several patients have admitted vaping THC products, there are others which say they have only been using nicotine products. Brian King, a deputy director from the CDC, listed ultrafine particles, including heavy metals like lead, as possible irritants in e-cigarettes. He also expressed concern over certain flavorings used in these products. A recent study on e-cigarettes liquid found some popular brands contained bacteria and fungi contaminants, too.

Untested and Unregulated: Black Market Cartridges Spell Disaster

Another possibly entertained by several doctors has nothing to do with the companies that make vape oil. Instead, they believe that teens and others are emptying cartridges and filling them with bootleg nicotine and cannabis mixtures.

This is of great concern because there’s no method of testing or controlling such products. Instead, these mixes could contain any list of different chemicals within their oils. As the vaping industry continues to grow, there are only more and better counterfeiters.

It is already possible to buy empty cartridges and fill them with whatever oils one desires. These mixtures can include anything from different flavors, cannabis, tobacco, heavy metals, pesticides, and anything that can be put into the oils. Since the illicit market is entirely unregulated, there’s no way to know the contents for sure.

However, a recent study out of Australia about using Sativex to treat cannabis addiction, also offers insight on how to curb the black market. By giving consumers the ability to access low cost, legally regulated cannabis products, consumers decreased their dependence on illicit, black market products. This concept seems like common sense, yet pricing, exorbitant taxes, and lack of national legalization keep the black-market thriving.

Authorities Either Unwilling or Unable to Release Information Related to these Cases

Concerning the death in Illinois, health officials did not reveal what device was being used, nor whether it was nicotine, cannabis, or another sort of product. In addition to this, authorities nationwide have not disclosed whether these cases are related to legitimate or bootleg carts.

Without knowing information such as this, consumers are left to guess whether these issues are a problem with mainstream vaping companies, or if they are safe to continue using their products. While bootleg operations should have always faced scrutiny, this may deal an unnecessary blow to the reputation of vaping companies who are acting ethically.

Ultimately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not have control over what chemicals are included in nicotine vape products. This means that tracing back what is causing this scourge of lung disease is made even more difficult by a lack of proper regulation. Doctors have noted that the lung injuries seen in these patients matches damage done to the lungs by chemical inhalation.

Cannabis Can Do Better

These stories mostly impact teens and other young people, as vaping is more popular with their demographic, and their bodies are more vulnerable. Products such as the incredibly popular Juul haven’t been great to slow this trend. At this point, there are even elderly people being affected. When looking towards the future, cannabis will want to strike out its own path.

Where the tobacco industry is notorious for their ability to skirt regulation, ethics, and even law, the cannabis industry has an opportunity to prove itself the better industry… and do the right thing. By consistently testing products and finding the problems before they affect the consumers, the cannabis industry could significantly improve their performance and reputation as compared to the nicotine industry.

Regulations should be immediately implemented mandating all products to be independently tested for any, and all, metal, pesticides, or other contaminants in a mixture. Manufacturers and retailers need to thoroughly vet the components in their hardware for potential dangers. Meanwhile, consumers must be educated about the dangers of the chemical components found within their consumables.

The FDA and other organizations have proven not to be sufficient in preventing stories such as this from breaking. The tobacco industry is known for pushing consumer safety to the wayside. By being proactive in testing and transparency, cannabis can prove itself the better industry.