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Report on Vape Health Scare Outlines How to Avoid a Repeat

PHOTO Connor Danylenko


Report on Vape Health Scare Outlines How to Avoid a Repeat

New numbers from the CDC shows that 60 people have died from vaping-related incidents. A report from the NCIA provides a pathway for how the cannabis industry can prevent another such scare.

As the outbreak of vaping related illnesses and fatalities continues around the country, the National Cannabis Industry Association has released a new report summarizing what experts currently know about the vaping health scare, including suggestions for how producers, regulators and lawmakers can stop health scares like this from happening in the legal cannabis market.

The NCIA report was released on Jan. 28, the same day that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their newest numbers on the illness they’re calling EVALI — short for “e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury.” As of Jan. 21, 2020, the CDC has counted 2,711 cases of EVALI in all 50 states. Of the afflicted people, 60 people have now died in 27 states.

After months of expert analysis and increasing media fascination with the outbreak, the NCIA report found that the vaping-related deaths are not the fault of the legal cannabis industry.

“Today, it appears that public health experts have concluded that additives from the illicit market appear to be the primary cause of this crisis,” the report noted. Back in December, the CDC  announced that additives — particularly vitamin-E acetate, which many illicit market producers were adding to both nicotine and cannabis vapes — were driving the EVALI scare.

In a statement along with the release of the report, the NCIA pointed blame at the CDC because it “inaccurately grouped regulated cannabis businesses with completely unregulated businesses such as illegal pop-ups and unlicensed storefronts as the sources for 16% of the cannabis products associated with EVALI cases.”

The report’s authors believe one thing is clear: “We must stop the flow of unregulated and untested products to consumers from the illicit market. That is the best solution to the vaping crisis, which is not likely to dissipate unless we take swift action to put illegal and unscrupulous operators out of business.”

One of the main things keeping those folks in business on the illicit market, the NCIA report found, is the “cripplingly high” state and local tax rates hitting compliant operators and consumers and consumers around the country.

But NCIA isn’t trying to narc everyone out. The report specifically suggests lowering the bar for entry to the legal cannabis industry in conjunction with lowering taxes. The report also suggests pushing the municipalities that currently block the legal industry from opening up shop — nearly 80% of California cities, as of an April 2019 report in the New York Times — to create pathways for those operators taking part in local underground markets to get a permit. They believe that approach is crucial to the success of the regulated market, “as the conversion of illegal operators into compliant licensees will stunt the growth of the illicit market by reducing the number of underground operators, removing unregulated and unsafe products from the stream of commerce and boosting state and local tax revenues.”

The report’s biggest conclusion is that stunting the illicit market should correspond with increasing access to the legal cannabis industry for consumers and operators alike.

“The American consumer clearly wants cannabis products to be both accessible and legal,” the report says. “It’s time for the federal government to deschedule marijuana and regulate it like alcohol. Legalization through descheduling, regulation and testing is the best path forward to keeping consumers safe. In the end, sensible regulation and a clear path to licensure and compliance will be the most compelling force in driving people from the illicit market to the state-legal market.”

The final report is the result of NCIA’s Policy Council establishing a Safe Vaping Task Force to “provide a consistent response on behalf of the concerned members of the regulated cannabis industry.” The policy council is made up of 30 individuals from across the industry, but the vaping task force included more experts for additional support.  

The report also noted that once the evidence linking injuries and deaths to vitamin E-based thinning agents used on the illicit market became apparent, the task force transitioned to a new phase.

“With a diminished need to provide rapid response to the misleading data points appearing in reports of this crisis, our work began to focus squarely on a long-term solution.”

The CDC reports that emergency room visits for EVALI peaked in September, and continue to decline.

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