In case you haven’t heard, the United States is dealing with a serious problem relating to vaping. It’s a mysterious lung illness – as an extremely severe form of pneumonia – that’s afflicted hundreds of victims. At least 805 cases of the illness have been confirmed, and 13 people have died at the time of writing.
So far, no cases of the illness have been confirmed outside the United States.
In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the U.S. vaping lung illness. As you’re about to learn, the term “vaping” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone – and only one type of vaping has been confirmed to cause the illness. Although the illness has not yet occurred in New Zealand, you’re also going to learn some very important information about how you can ensure your safety. Most importantly, you’re going to learn the consequences of what happens when politicians make decisions based on fearmongering and misinformation.
Table of Contents
- Nicotine E-Liquid Is Not the Cause of the Vaping Lung Illness
- What Is the U.S. Vaping Lung Illness?
- What Is Causing the Vaping Lung Illness?
- How Big Is the Illicit THC Vaping Market?
- Why Is Vitamin E Being Used in THC Vape Cartridges?
- How Have U.S. State and Federal Governments Responded to the Vaping Lung Illness?
- How Can I Vape Safely?
- What Can the U.S. Vaping Lung Illness Teach Us About Government Vaping Regulations?
Nicotine E-Liquid Is Not the Cause of the Vaping Lung Illness
On September 27, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that there seems to be a link between the lung illness and vaping products containing THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. If you’re exclusively a nicotine e-liquid user, you should understand that fact upfront before you begin worrying about your safety. It’s also an important thing to keep in mind as you learn about how U.S. state and federal governments have responded to this event – because the response has little to do with the actual cause of the problem.
No nicotine e-liquid product has been found to cause the lung illness.
The majority of the patients treated for the lung illness have admitted to using THC vaping products. A few claimed that they had only used nicotine vaping products prior to the onset of the illness. It has since been discovered that many of those people were not telling the truth about their THC use.
What Is the U.S. Vaping Lung Illness?
The vaping lung illness presents like an extremely severe form of pneumonia. Patients have complained of symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain and fever. Patients have also had symptoms typical of infectious diseases such as elevated heart rates and white blood cell counts – but no infections have been found. Some patients have improved with the administration of steroids. Some have required supplemental oxygen. Others have been placed on ventilators because they lost the ability to breathe on their own. At least 13 patients have died, and although many people have recovered, the full extent to which their lungs are damaged is unknown.
What Is Causing the Vaping Lung Illness?
Health authorities in the United States haven’t yet identified a single cause of the lung illness, but they have focused their attention on illegal THC vaping cartridges because those cartridges appear to be the link between most or all of the cases. In particular, producers of illicit THC cartridges in the United States have recently begun using Vitamin E acetate to thicken and dilute the oil in the cartridges. We’ll explain why shortly. Authorities are investigating Vitamin E acetate as a primary cause of the vaping illness. It appears that the oil settles in the lungs, where the body then begins attacking it as if it were an infection.
Nicotine e-liquid contains no Vitamin E. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that any commercial e-liquid product has caused the lung illness. E-liquid manufacturers in the United States aren’t allowed to introduce new products or change their formulas without approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. e-liquid industry has remained static for several years, while the lung illness began to appear only recently. The possibility of any commercial e-liquid causing the illness is almost non-existent. Counterfeit e-liquid, however, could be a potential suspect.
How Big Is the Illicit THC Vaping Market?
In the United States, pre-filled THC cartridges for vape pens are so popular that they represent as much as a third of the legal market for cannabis. THC cartridges can be extremely potent, but they’re also inexpensive, easy to transport and very discreet. They also don’t have the overpowering smell of cannabis flowers.
The qualities that make THC cartridges extremely popular among legal cannabis consumers may make the cartridges even more popular among those with no legal options for cannabis use. Although many U.S. states have programs in place for medical or recreational cannabis use, most states do not. Those who want to use cannabis in those states have no option but to buy it on the black market – and when it comes to illegal cannabis use, buyers and sellers alike are very interested in a solution that’s discreet and easy to conceal.
Millions of people buy illicit THC vape cartridges per year, spending billions of dollars in the process.
The problem with black market THC products is that the producers of those products don’t answer to anyone. They aren’t sending their THC vape cartridges to third-party labs for testing, and there’s no guarantee that a cartridge actually contains the amount of THC stated on the box. The cartridges could be tainted with heavy metals, pesticides, solvents and petroleum products.
There could be as many as 50 million illicit THC vape cartridges circulating on America’s streets right now. This problem is not going away any time soon.
Why Is Vitamin E Being Used in THC Vape Cartridges?
The explosion in the use of Vitamin E acetate in THC vape cartridges began with the launch of Honey Cut, a product that appeared on the market in late 2018. It was only available through the manufacturer’s website and has since disappeared from the Internet due to the recent controversies.
The thing that made Honey Cut so revolutionary in the illegal THC vaping industry was the fact that it could dilute THC oil while simultaneously thickening it. One common thread throughout the history of the illegal drug trade is that drug producers will cut their products whenever possible to increase their profits. Until the release of Honey Cut, black market vape cartridge buyers could instantly identify a diluted THC cartridge because it would look watered down. Cartridges diluted with Honey Cut looked thick and potent.
The key ingredient of Honey Cut is Vitamin E acetate.
Honey Cut was quickly copied by other brands. By Summer 2019 – the same time that instances of the vaping lung illness began to increase exponentially – there were about 40 companies in the United States selling Vitamin E-based THC thickeners. Most legitimate companies marketing Vitamin E-based thickeners have since pulled those products – but the thickeners are still easily available to illicit vape cartridge producers because anyone can obtain Vitamin E.
The reason why the U.S. vaping lung illness has been focused around the illicit THC industry is because legal dispensaries must verify the quality and potency of their products by sending them out for lab tests. The cartridges actually have to contain what’s on the labels. Black market sellers don’t bother with testing since they’re obviously operating outside the law in the first place – and they don’t have a vested interest in the safety and health of their customers.
Some black-market THC vape cartridges are so diluted that they contain more than 50 percent Vitamin E.
The vaping lung illness underscores the urgent need for the United States to regulate cannabis production nationwide – but that’s not what has happened. Instead, the government has turned its attention to e-liquid vaping.
How Have U.S. State and Federal Governments Responded to the Vaping Lung Illness?
Reports of the vaping lung illness first began to appear in the United States around April 2019. If you look at the early reports of the illness released in the media, you’ll notice that most reports simply mention “vaping” as the unifying factor. They make no distinction between e-liquid vaping and THC vaping. Meanwhile, the U.S. currently has a major problem with underage children buying and using nicotine vaping products. Reportedly, more than 25 percent of school-aged children now vape in the United States.
Remember that there is no known connection between the lung illness and commercial nicotine e-liquid. Nevertheless, the illness has many parents concerned that their children could become sick and potentially die from using e-liquid vaping products. Parents and anti-vaping groups have jumped in and demanded that their state and federal governments do something about this problem – so they are.
The only problem is that they’re not attacking the actual cause of the vaping lung illness. Instead, they’re attacking e-liquid vaping.
In September 2019, Michigan became the first U.S. state to ban all flavoured vaping products. New York quickly followed suit with a similar ban. The state of Massachusetts reacted even more severely, banning all vaping product sales in the state for at least four months. Most officials have cited the vaping lung illness as a major reason for the bans despite the fact that nicotine e-liquids have no known connection with the illness. Adult consumers, meanwhile, are simply crossing state lines to get the products they want.
The misguided government response to the vaping lung illness culminated in a September 11 press conference in which U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to ban all flavoured e-liquids other than tobacco flavours in the United States. President Trump, apparently unaware of the connection between the lung illness and THC vaping, said, “Vaping has become a very big business […] but people are dying with vaping.”
If the U.S. e-liquid flavour ban moves forward as planned, it will likely take effect before the end of 2019.
How Can I Vape Safely?
These are the three most important things that you should know about the vaping lung illness.
- No cases of the lung illness have been diagnosed in New Zealand.
- No cases of the lung illness have been linked to commercial e-liquid vaping products.
- Investigations in the United States have pinpointed illicit THC vaping cartridges as the primary – if not only – cause of the illness.
After the 2020 Cannabis Referendum, it is possible that cannabis will become legal for personal use throughout New Zealand. After that happens, it’s likely that regulations will be put in place to ensure the purity and safety of cannabis products. Until then, though, you should avoid buying pre-filled THC vaping cartridges. As American cannabis buyers have learned, you don’t know what’s in a sealed vaping cartridge unless the producer has to comply with regulations and test its products. The safest way to consume cannabis is by buying whole flowers.
If you’re an e-liquid vaper, you have less cause for worry because e-liquid makers have no reason to use Vitamin E in their products. Counterfeit vaping products do exist, though – particularly when it comes to popular brands such as JUUL. It’s always wise to confirm that your favourite e-liquid sellers obtain their products from licensed distributors.
What Can the U.S. Vaping Lung Illness Teach Us About Government Vaping Regulations?
Elected officials, for the most part, want to do their best to keep voters happy and represent their constituents in good faith. Personal freedom, however, is a very delicate thing that can easily be taken away in the face of forces such as misinformation, fearmongering and political lobbying. In the long run, legal e-liquid vaping in the United States can’t go away forever as long as tobacco cigarettes remain legal – and the U.S. government certainly isn’t about to ban tobacco.
The Prohibition era of the early 1900s taught the world that prohibiting a product like alcohol, nicotine or cannabis doesn’t prevent people from obtaining those products; it only means that people will obtain those products under unsafe conditions.
That’s why e-liquid will never disappear in the United States. It’s also why the number of new lung illness cases will not decrease any time soon. People will need to decide on their own that using a pre-filled THC vape cartridge from an unknown maker simply isn’t worth the risk.
The vaping bans currently happening in the U.S. could take place almost anywhere in the world. Do your part to protect personal freedoms and to prevent the spread of misinformation.
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Thanks, a lot Bobby Reid