by Rick Thompson/originally appeared in The Rolling Paper – October 2019 issue
Recent news reports detail vapor pens and the health damage some may cause humans. Users of certain pens have been admitted to the hospital with popcorn lung, respiratory ailments and worse. Some people have died.
In the investigation into why these illnesses and fatalities have occurred the finger of government accusation is pointed toward vapor cartridges containing THC, the most commonly-used active ingredient in cannabis.
Although some vapers of nicotine products have reported illness it seems the majority of these hospitalizations are in fact associated with cannabis vape cartridges, or carts. Anti-cannabis personalities and organizations have seized upon these sad events to promote their personal political agendas, treating the deaths of innocent people like a public relations bonanza. ‘We told you so,’ seems to be their theme, and ‘Now go back to 1980,’ seems to be their agenda.
All the evidence points to the carrier liquid in carts, not the THC, as the cause of illness and suffering. The solution is not to ban or drive underground an industry which sells millions of units in America each week; the solution is better monitoring, more regulation and increased corporate responsibility.
Each cartridge contains a small amount of active ingredient, either THC, nicotine or cannabis’ non-intoxicating chemical healer, CBD. The remainder of the carrier liquid in the cart is there to provide flavor, add bulk and thicken the liquid into a consumer-acceptable form.
Why are some carts dangerous and some are not? Because not all carrier liquid is created equal.
Vapor cartridges have existed for several years in America and the danger to users came from pens exploding in people’s faces. Battery units produced overseas and sold in the USA do not meet American production standards. Their components are not tested under standards required by American consumer protection standards. The number of documented cases of pens exploding is significant.
Corporate entities have financial responsibility for the damage their products create. To avoid lawsuits these companies generally use higher grade products and ingredients. Better battery units. High grade carrier liquids and active components.
Those corporations dominated the market for vapor products in the early years of the industry. But as the industry became more successful and the financial rewards were growing, so too was interest in it from the illicit actors who saw a way to make money while avoiding all the corporate paperwork and taxation.
People in all places and from all walks of life began purchasing the individual components from overseas suppliers and assembling their own vapor pens. They launched unregistered companies and marketed these pens through Internet sources. Entrepreneurial actions are praise-worthy, but as the market became flooded with products the competition begat a price war.
This race to the bottom of the price scale forced illegal producers of vape carts to cut costs in any way they could. One way they saved money was by using new carrier liquids and cheap battery units. The effect of this unregulated industry’s cost-cutting moves are being seen across the country in hospital rooms and newspaper headlines.
But where does blame lie?
People who purchase cheap, out-of-market vape cartridges from unregistered or Internet sources must bear some of the responsibility on themselves. Going cheap always has consequence. Restaurant sushi is always better than gas station sushi. When the cheap version makes you sick your friends are quick to point out, “You should have known better.”
Internet marketing makes even a fly-by-night company look amazingly successful and credible, however. For the average consumer it might not be possible to tell the difference between a first-rate company and an unregistered company hand-packing their vape carts in some hotel room.
The producers of vape cartridges are responsible for the items they create and the hazards they deliver. Fiscal or criminal liability rests in the laps of those who purchased components, assembled units, marketed and shipped them. The people suffering from injuries created by deficient products have a right to sue the person who created that product. Unless you live in Michigan, of course.
But there is another level of responsibility inherent in the process of purchasing components and advertising products. That responsibility falls on the Internet companies who host ads for unregistered companies and facilitate sales of unregistered products.
Amazon seemingly hosted storefronts where vape components were sold in bulk to purchasers who had no license to make the items those components are a part of. They allowed vendors to sell fake California compliance stickers. They allowed knock-off vape packaging to be sold, enabling unscrupulous vendors to trick consumers into believing they were purchasing legitimate products when in fact they were not.
Chinese products were sold to American companies to produce these out-of-market vape pens. The world’s largest Internet portal for these purchases is Ali Baba, an online intermediary to connect primarily Asian producers of almost everything with American and European purchasers. If you have a credit card, and nothing else, you can buy from Ali Baba.
Internet websites and social media portals provided the purchasing avenue for the dangerous and fatal carts. Increasing evidence points to online eCommerce sites as the connection point between the producers and consumers of unregulated vape products.
The vapor cartridge issue has brought to light the amazing world of under-the-radar distribution and sale of potentially dangerous items. While producers of these dangerous items ultimately bear the responsibility for the items they create, it would be foolish to miss this opportunity to hold accountable the Internet avenues through which purchases and sales of illegal products are transacted.
Amazon could require all sellers to produce a Federal Employer Identification Number and state business license information for their vendors of vape cartridge components and food additives. They could be better monitored to eliminate the tools of the black market, like counterfeit stickers or packaging. Ali Baba could be required to report all transactions with American addresses where large orders of vapor components are delivered, which could be checked against listings of regulated vape pen companies. Internet locales where vape cartridges are being sold could be required to eliminate these ads, or face shutdown of their websites.
The United States has avoided enacting regulations on the vapor industry, but that time seems to have passed. Scientists tell us vapor pens provide a more healthy alternative to cigarettes. Purchasing data indicate consumers want this product. Trying to drive the industry underground by prohibiting its existence is foolhardy and any plan to do so would be doomed to failure. Prohibition does not work.
If we allow people to hide behind Amazon storefronts, Ali Baba accounts or Internet chat rooms and therefore avoid consequence for vapor cartridge damage, we have failed the ill and the dead.