On October 1st, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 1080 cases of Vape Lung Disease, including 18 deaths. Many of these cases, some claim up to 80%, are suspected to be related to cannabis vaping products. Just like the nicotine e-cigarette industry, the liquids and chemicals in cannabis vape products are not regulated. Some health organizations suggest that the chemicals in vaping liquids combined with unknown chemicals added to cannabis products may be at the heart of the increase in illnesses in cannabis users. Others attribute the disease to e-cigarette/vape product designs that use high heat levels to “vape” liquids. The high heat vaping process creates unusual chemical reactions that may cause damage to lungs. In terms of cannabis products, it’s likely a double-whammy because the cannabis industry has historically operated in illegal settings with zero oversight and a fair number of bad actors, i.e., people who grow or lace products with unknown chemicals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that over 1,000 people became ill from vaping e-cigarettes, including 18 deaths. Now, research by the Mayo Clinic of Arizona suggests the lung damage may be the result of chemical burns.
The CDC announced that 77% of the injured vapers were using e-cigarettes with tobacco and THC products, and 17% were using only nicotine. The CDC partnered with state-based health care services and research hospitals to try to determine the cause of the recent spike in vaping lung damage cases.
If you were surprised to hear that Juul’s CEO, Kevin Burns, publicly told people not to vape or use his products, you were not alone. It is quite rare for a company to recommend against supporting its profit margins. This is especially true for a company that has been under intense scrutiny for predatory marketing practices and a link to the meteoric rise of teen e-cigarette use. It begs the question, “Why?” Why is Juul so suddenly changing its spots? Could Juul truly and authentically have morphed into an ambassador of health and wellness?
In yet another example of U.S. states and localities filling the empty shoes of the FDA, Michigan has banned all e-cigarette flavors within its borders. Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan, made a public statement as follows, “My number one priority is keeping our kids safe. Right now, companies selling vaping products are using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine and misleading claims to promote the belief that these products are safe. That ends today.”
In response to a spate of chemical pneumonia cases that hospitalized 16 people, the city of Milwaukee advised all of its residents to “Stop Vaping Immediately.” All 16 patients reported vaping or dabbing (with THC) prior to symptoms that required hospitalization.
The CDC has also issued an advisory warning because the Wisconsin incidents are part of nationwide outbreak of a mysterious lung illness associated with vaping. According to the CDC, as of Sept. 6, 2019, there were over 450 reported cases of vape-related aberrant pneumonias and lung conditions, with at least 5 deaths. According to reports, most of the patients are young, and were healthy prior to hospitalization.
A Baylor College of Medicine study, funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), shows chronic exposure to e-cigarette vapors damages lungs and lowers immune response to pathogens. The four-month study, which did not address the additional harms caused by nicotine, revealed that vaping alters the composition of epithelial and immune cells of the lungs, causing a buildup of lipids (insoluble fat) that affect lung function and reduce the ability to fight off infection.
The study proposes the cause of the lung cell malfunction is linked to the vaping liquids which contain solvents such as propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG). These types of solvents are FDA-approved for ingestion, not inhalation. E-cigarette liquids are also known to contain a host of unknown chemicals that may cause further damage.
In yet another farcical attempt to control the unregulated vaping industry, The FDA has issued a “warning letter” to JUUL accusing it of violating the FD&C act in its advertising by claiming it is a healthy alternative to cigarette smoking.
The letter, one of many issued to the big vape company, instructs JUUL to “immediately correct the violations that are referenced above, as well as violations that are the same as or similar to those stated above, and take any necessary actions to bring your tobacco products into compliance with the FD&C Act.”
Alexander Mitchell never expected that vaping would place him inches from death’s door. At 20 years old, Mitchell was an avid hiker and in seemingly perfect health. But then, one day, he had severe nausea, chest pains, and couldn’t breathe. He ended up in the hospital under critical care. Doctors in Utah were baffled until they spotted abnormal immune cells in his lungs. They diagnosed Mitchell with acute respiratory distress syndrome and attributed his lung failure to vaping.
The FDA recently added “seizures” as a possible danger associated with vaping after reviewing 127 cases that reference e-cigarettes as a possible causal factor. Reports indicate that seizures have occurred “after a few puffs or even up to one day after use” of e-cigarettes. The seizure investigation is part of an ongoing scientific evaluation of e-cigarette safety.
The FDA is currently working to “identify common risk factors” and determine whether any specific e-cigarette product attributes, such as nicotine content or formulation, may be more likely to contribute to seizures.
A recent New York Times opinion article by Former FDA Commissioner (1990-1997), David A. Kesslerm, states the Juul e-cigarette design appeals to kids. Kesslerm opines the product design matches the “tobacco playbook” by decreasing the harshness of the nicotine and inhaling effect to increase use in new smokers.
Kesslerm cited tobacco industry documents from the fifties that revealed an insidious strategy to design such products to draw in new users. The internal studies revealed “product design changes that make cigarettes more palatable, easier to smoke, or more addictive are also likely to encourage greater uptake of smoking.” Kesslerm asserts this is exactly the type of product created by Juul, which added organic acids to decrease harshness from the higher nicotine content.