A quiet Wisconsin neighborhood was the backdrop to what looked like a scene straight out of Breaking Bad, the hit TV series.
But instead of crystallized methamphetamine, police earlier this month busted a large-scale illegal vape pen operation. This was a thriving production line of nearly 3000 illicit cartridges a day. A scale rivaling even licensed oil brands.
The bust was significant. Thousands of empty cartridges. Dozens of Mason jars brimming with a gooey honey-like substance. And filled flavored vaping cartridges, ready for market.
So far, authorities have not pinpointed a specific device, ingredient, or additive, as the culprit behind the lung illnesses sweeping across the US.
Although the chief suspect – according to medical researchers – appears to be vitamin E acetate, a harmful additive used in some illegal e-cigarettes and cannabis vaping pens.
Vitamin E acetate, as you may know, is used as an oil thickener to blend expensive THC and other oils. Health problems occur when oily vitamin E droplets are not fully vaporized, and instead, inhaled causing breathing difficulties, lung inflammation, and potentially triggering pneumonia.
Black market operations (and even some legitimate ones) are known to use various dangerous cutting agents to save on costs and increase profits.
Time will tell whether this was the practice in the illegal Wisconsin operation. The difficulty from a consumers’ perspective, is identifying a counterfeit product from the real thing. Illicit products are often cleverly disguised as legitimate, and an unsuspecting public, looking for a cheaper alternative, easily falls prey to tainted products.
For now, flavored e-cigarettes are taking the brunt of looming legislative intervention, with a likely ban on flavored tobacco products.
But there may well be implications for the cannabis industry too.
Far better for the cannabis industry to take the initiative and call out bad actors where we see it, than leave it to the regulators.
Already, California Governor is pushing for tough action. Recommendations Include further product label warnings, increasing enforcement against retailers selling to minors, and an allocation to fund a vaping awareness campaign.
Nonetheless, it remains incumbent for the industry to ensure our products are safe.
AVD continues to play a leading role, working with the most reputable laboratories across the US, to develop and promote a standardized heavy metals test.
And, irrespective the cost, AVD will continue to use only the highest quality materials in the construction of our cartridges and vape pens. Our components are manufactured free from harmful heavy metals, glycol, pesticides, BPA, and other harmful toxins.
We know that the licensed market in several states operate in an environment of unfavorable pricing versus the black market. However, it’s on us to continue to push for sensible industry regulations and not lower our standards.
Our role must be to educate our consumers whenever we can.
Not only should we encourage consumers to purchase cannabis vaping products from reputable and licensed dispensaries and retailers. But also, to urge consumers to question the identity of fill ingredients, and insist on understanding what materials go into manufacturing vaping hardware.
Only then can something good come from this tragic epidemic.