On October 8, 2019, Governor Steve Bullock directed the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to implement emergency rules that would temporarily ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. This announcement came the same day the second Montana illness related to vaping was confirmed in Yellowstone County. The Montana Governor directed emergency rules be implemented, but is vaping-related illness an actual emergency in Montana? What brought Bullock to make this decision, an effort to boost his presidential campaign polling or a genuine concern for Montana’s young people? Are the health concerns around vaping justified or are we experiencing another health scare utilizing propaganda to create reactionary legislation that subsequently benefits Big Tobacco?
Three Montana vape shops and a trade association representing them filed a lawsuit Thursday, October 17, to overturn the ban. The Plaintiffs, Freedom Vapes, Liberty Smoke, UBlaze Vapor, and the Montana Smokefree Association, requested an injunction on the ban, claiming that it would for 20 Montana businesses to close.
The Montana vape shop owners attribute that the pulmonary illnesses could be the result of the “illicit addition” of THC or marijuana products into legal vaping products and that THC and marijuana are not included as ingredients in any of the products sold by the businesses involved in the lawsuit, according to the plaintiffs. These business owners may be using the Montana cannabis industry as a scapegoat for this issue but is it just illegal THC cartridges getting everyone sick? Let’s start from the beginning.
Smoking and Vaporizing are similar, but not the same. Both use heat and combustion, but the methods that these devices use heat to create smoke and generate that smoke are very different. E-cigarettes, or vaporizers, utilize a heated wire coil or atomizer to combust an oil-chemical mixture; this mixture is usually mostly oil with some volatile organic compounds. There can also be a host of other chemicals in there including an array of carrier oils used to cut the active compounds, stabilizer chemicals, and preservatives. Cigarettes on the other hand not only contain dry tobacco leaf that has a range of oils and compounds including nicotine, but tobacco companies also add many other chemicals including formaldehyde and arsenic. Both are known major carcinogens.
There are a lot more differences in vaporizer devices and the liquid or “juice” than those in off-the-shelf cigarettes from large producers like Marlboro or Philip Morris. “These products are commercialised in various forms (or ‘models’) with different design characteristics and generate different physical and chemical characteristics during operation.”
There is also a very large gap between legally sourced vape-cartridges in the regulated e-cigarette and cannabis industry and their illegal counterparts. These illegal cartridges are being formulated with questionably-sourced ingredients and mixed and concocted. Much of the controversy is over the Illegally formulated and sold THC vaporizer cartridges. Many of the fake THC vape cartridges contain a mix of locally formulated products that have not passed testing and are sold illegally or are completely illegally formulated cartridges that could have any substances inside, toxic or not. Legally-produced THC cartridges are heavily regulated and tested in all medical and recreational states. Many of the Illegal vaporizer cartridges have their source in China and were imported as counterfeit products.
With the latest ban on the market harming the vaporizer industry, news about the industry’s largest company, Juul, bringing to market one million out of date and potentially contaminated cartridges further hurts an already vulnerable industry. The former CEO even reportedly said, “Half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fos, who the fuck is going to notice the quality of our pods.” This was all denied by the company later but was followed by the quick resignation of Kevin Burns, Juul’s CEO. This was all brought to light after a lawsuit filed by a former employee of Juul against the company for selling these contaminated pods. This just shows the lack of ethics and oversight that was lacking in keeping this Criminal CEO and his renegade company reigned in before this disaster could happen.
Although widespread bans have swept through the US, there are still real studies that show the toxicology of some of the formulations in the e-cigarette market are safer than their cigarette counterparts. These studies are of specific chemicals used in vaping and their constituent chemicals used in the formulation of the cartridges. One of the chemicals used was Propylene Glycol and was shown to have “very little to no toxicity” and also showed a small to moderate risk of allergic reactions. Also, many legally produced vaporizer Recreational and medical industries have been providing safe and regulated vaporizer cartridges from cannabis using the proper solvent and solventless methods to extract and concentrate the cannabinoids and natural VOC from the flower. Studies also found that “Vaporization of cannabis is a safe and effective mode of delivery of THC.” Yet illegally or unscrupulous produced cartridges are killing children and adults at an alarming rate, it is why it is so important to crack down on the illegal and hostile actors and at the same time bolster the legal and regulated market. There are real health benefits over smoking, but the thing that will kill this industry is lack of regulation and uninformed legislation in safe industry standards.
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