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The Vaping Crisis You’ve Been Hearing About

Let’s start with some history.

Vape scares and crises have been in the news for a while, and, though e-cigarettes didn’t really come on on the scene until 2003, it might surprise you to know that vaping has a history as far back as 440 B.C. Herodotus, a Greek historian, described placing cannabis flower on hot coals and inhaling the vapors in rituals to honor the dead.


Now, admittedly, from then to the 1930’s, not much happened in the realm of vape technology. However, in 1927, a patent for the first documented e-cigarette was filed by one Mr. Joseph Robinson.


Source: Google Patents


It’s unclear whether even a prototype of his vision was made, and it certainly wasn’t commercialized.

There was another dry spell from the 30’s until the 60’s when Herbert A. Gilbert filed a patent in 1963. He, too, was never able to commercialize his idea.

In 1979, a nice fella by the name of Phil Ray, one of the founders of Computer Terminal Corporation (today known as Datapoint Corporation), and his physician, Norman Jacobson, put together another version of an e-cigarette. Though nothing physically came of it, the term “vape” is widely credited to these two.

Throughout the 1990’s, patents were filed, prototypes made, and a tobacco company even approached the FDA about taking an e-cigarette to market. They were denied. And so, the 1990’s came and went without an e-cigarette market.

But come 2003, Hon Lik, a Beijing pharmacist, inventor, and long-time smoker, forgot to take off his nicotine patch before bed and had a dream that changed vaping history. He invented what we know as the e-cigarette of today. From then on, vaping had a pretty fast trajectory.


In 2006, vaping was introduced to the UK where it grew in cultural popularity. In 2007, the e-cigarette made its way to the US.

E-cigarettes have seen an increasing amount of regulation worldwide since about 2009. This also happens to be the year that Obama gave the FDA the power to regulate tobacco when he signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

Setting the record straight

To vape. It’s a verb. Vaping is the act of inhaling a vapor. The act of vaping applies to both a vape pen and an e-cigarette. However, a vape pen and an e-cigarette are different. The media often uses the term vape pen and e-cigarette interchangeably, but a vape pen, though similar in function, is not the same as an e-cigarette.

Source: CDC

An e-cigarette looks like a cigarette and consists of three parts: a mouthpiece, a cartomizer (this is a combined nicotine cartridge and atomizer), and a battery. Because its designed to resemble a cigarette, it can end up getting weird looks from people when using it in public. Like with anything, there are pros and cons to an e-cigarette.

Let’s list them out.

Pros :

  • Looks and feels like a real cigarette

  • Comes with pre-filled cartridges

Cons:

  • Looks and feels like a real cigarette

  • Can’t tell when the cartridge is low or empty

  • E-liquid or cartomizer manufacturer has to be the same as the battery’s manufacturer

  • Limited battery life

Now, a vape pen consists of a mouthpiece; a refillable, clear tank; an atomizer; an on/off switch; and a battery. With the refillable tank and interchangeable components, a vaporizer has more customizability.

Here are some pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Lots of customization options

  • Including diversity in flavors and e-liquid manufacturers

  • Longer-lasting, rechargeable battery

  • Refillable, clear cartridge

Cons:

  • More expensive to get started

  • Required liquid refill

  • Larger

All that being said, because the media uses them interchangeably, the specifics of vape pen vs e-cigarette for the following information is reported as it was reported at the source.

But what is vaping and how does it work?

In simple terms, it’s the inhalation of vapor created by the heating of a liquid in an electronic device (or e-cigarette).

Vapor is created when the cartomizer (again, that’s a cartridge/atomizer combo) connects to the battery. The battery powers the atomizer portion of the cartomizer and heats up the liquid in the cartridge part of the cartomizer until it’s a vapor. Then the user inhales that vapor.

There have been a few crises related to and ramping up to the vape crisis most present in the news today. Within the US we’ve been dealing with cases of seizures, exploding e-cigarettes, and, perhaps most well-known, lung injuries (previously referred to as lung illness).

Let’s start with the seizures.

The FDA is investigating a connection between e-cigarettes and seizures after an increase in reports of people having seizures possibly in connection with e-cigarettes since June 2018. Reports are submitted voluntarily to the FDA through their Safety Reporting Portal, which makes officials worry that the 35 cases reported in April of 2019 is not an accurate reflection of the cases happening. As of August of 2019, The FDA is investigating an additional 92 cases.

Seizures are “a sudden, uncontrollable electrical disturbance in the brain,” resulting in a range of symptoms from confusion or shaking to unconsciousness (Mayo Clinic). Some of the self-reported information provides no brands or sub-brands, indicates the user had a history of seizures, the user had seizures in conjunction with the use of additional substances such as amphetamines or marijuana, or a seizure occurred from within moments of smoking to up to a day later.

Data collection is ongoing as the investigation continues, and the FDA isn’t sure about a connection between the two.

So, the exploding e-cigarettes?

Exploding e-cigarettes are thought to be caused by battery failures, but the exact cause is unknown. The FDA has a list of ways to avoid these battery explosions because, due to the nature of cigarettes and vape pens (going to and from your face), the results of the explosions are especially dangerous. A man from Texas was killed after the explosion cut a major artery in his neck in February of this year. Another man, in Florida, was killed when the explosion sent a projectile into his head. Both devices were found to have a “mechanical mod” that increased the vaporizer and had a larger battery than the typical device.

Increasingly teens are becoming victims of these incidents as the number of middle school and high school kids vaping has trended upward to the point that the Surgeon General declared it an “E-cigarette Epidemic Among Youth.

The University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found that the increase in vaping from 2017 to 2018 was the largest increase recorded in adolescent substance abuse in 43 years. Teens have suffered some pretty serious injuries from these explosions too. A teen from Nevada had his jaw shattered and displaced some of his teeth in June, and a teen in Oregon suffered severe burns around his eye and on his right hand and shattered some of his teeth.

Tobacco Control Journal published a study with results showing that “from 2015 to 2017, there were an estimated 2,035 e-cigarette explosion and burn injuries presenting to US hospital emergency departments.”

What about the lung injuries in the news right now?

Patients first have symptoms of pneumonia or the flu for several days leading to shortness of breath. Doctors have seen what appears to be chemical burns and toxic chemical exposure to a grease-like coating covering the lungs. As of yet, there is no clear indication of what substance is causing the injuries.

Lung injuries, previously referred to as lung disease or illness, is now being called EVALI which is short for e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury. Not a clunky abbreviation at all.

Number of Lung Injury Cases Reported to CDC as of December 3, 2019

Source: CDC

Per the CDC, “as of Dec 4, 2019, 2291 cases of hospitalized e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) have been reported to CDC from 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 2 U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands).

Forty-eight deaths have been confirmed in 25 states and the District of Columbia (as of December 4, 2019).”

Vitamin E acetate has been identified by the CDC as a “chemical of concern” among EVALI patients as it appeared in 29 of the lung fluid samples. Though vitamin E acetate is common in supplements and skincare, when inhaled it coats the lungs. Vitamin E acetate is often used as a thickening agent or to dilute THC products by black-market suppliers.

Of the 1,184 patients that the CDC has complete information on, 83% reported using THC-containing products, 35% reported using exclusively THC-containing products. 41% reported using nicotine-containing products, and 48% reported use of both products. “Dank Vapors” is the most common brand name the CDC has come across, but unfortunately, that “brand” is a label easily attained online for black-market sales.

What does this mean to us?

The Vaping crisis has scared officials and citizens alike. We’ve got 7 states that have announced or enacted a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, Massachusets has a 4-month ban on all vaping products,San Francisco banned all e-cigarettes, even Apple removed all apps related to vaping. Bans and regulations works for law-abiding citizens, but the folks making their own vaping liquid aren’t going to stop selling their illicit product just because the state put a ban on it. Nor will it stop teens who want to vape from seeking out their fix another way. Regulators are relying on investigators to figure out how best to deal with this while investigators have to deal with a lack of data due in part to the decentralized regulation of cannabis products. It’s a tight place to be and the regulations that come from it will hardly be perfect.

The vape scare has led to a decrease in sales of vape products, especially in those places with bans. That said, in BDS Analytics’ October report, they projected “an increase of more than a $1 billion for vape sales in 2020 from this year, and a tripling of vape sales by 2023.”

And growers? They shouldn’t be too worried unless they’re not selling to the legal cannabis market. Dispensaries, too, shouldn’t fear too much (unless in a state with a ban) because they can build their reputation, if they haven’t already, around education.

Fear often stems from not knowing. So now is the time for the industry to educate, educate, educate.

Be a source of open, honest information. A lot of folks turn to cannabis for health reasons, so let’s give them a legitimate, well-researched reason to stay.

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