US lung epidemic “caused by contamination”

The outbreak of serious lung disease across the USA, which the press have been gleefully linking to electronic cigarettes, can actually be traced to chemical contamination in a range of marijuana products. So far more than 500 cases have been reported, across 33 states and one territory, and at least five people are dead. Opponents of tobacco harm reduction have seized the chance to issue hysterical warnings about the “dangers” of vaping, but now health officials say they’ve identified the probable cause.

Analysis of cannabis vapes used by victims have found the same contaminant in all of them – Vitamin E acetate. This is an oil derived from Vitamin E, which is often sold as a health supplement or used to treat minor skin conditions. It’s safe when swallowed or applied to the skin, but it seems it’s dangerous when vaporised and inhaled.

The actual vaping industry has known for a long time that oils should be avoided in liquids – inhaling vaporised oil can cause lipoid pneumonia, a severe lung disease with some resemblance to the current US outbreak. However these cases seem to be linked to black market or counterfeit products. The FDA is currently telling state officials that its lab tests have found no contamination or other unusual substances in nicotine vaping products used by victims.

It’s always been clear that, whatever was causing these cases, it wasn’t normal vapour products – otherwise, why would the outbreak have appeared in the USA in late June, and not worldwide 15 years ago? Now it seems likely that a contaminated batch of marijuana extract has found its way into the US criminal market and been used in a variety of illicit products. Further restrictions on legal vaping products will achieve nothing, but that probably won’t stop the antis yelling for them anyway.

Michigan imposes first state-wide flavour ban

Michigan will soon achieve the dubious distinction of becoming the first state to ban flavoured vaping products. While San Francisco has already banned flavours and several other counties and cities are heading down the same road, these have all been local moves. Michigan’s will affect the state’s whole population of almost ten million people.

Unusually, this ban hasn’t even been voted on by state politicians. Michigan state law allows state agencies to create regulations that have legal force, even if they haven’t gone through the state legislature. Governor Gretchen Whitmer directed the state’s health department to write this ban, and as soon as it’s finished and filed it will become limited state law.

According to Whitmer the ban won’t affect unflavoured or tobacco-flavoured vapour products, but will outlaw all other flavours. Her argument is that “ companies selling vaping products are using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine” – despite a mass of evidence showing that adult vapers also prefer non-tobacco flavours by a large margin.

The law is expected to come into force in a few weeks. Once it does it will remain law for six months, and Whitmer can extend that for another six. After that it will have to be formally voted into law by the state legislature.

Whitmer’s move has already attracted fierce criticism from harm reduction advocates, who slammed it for being undemocratic as well as counter-productive. Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association called it a “shameless attempt at backdoor prohibition” while State Representative Beau LaFave labelled it a “non-democratic process” by “Emperor Whitmer”.

JUUL fights back against San Francisco vape ban

E-cigarette manufacturer JUUL Labs has won a partial legal victory against San Francisco over a ballot question. The company has been trying to replace the city’s recent total ban on vapour product sales with a lighter and more sensible set of regulations. However, the city had worded the proposed question in a way that suggests e-cigs are currently banned by the federal government.

Now San Francisco’s Superior Court has ruled that the words “sale of electronic cigarettes that lack required FDA authorization” is potentially misleading to voters, implying that it’s illegal to sell e-cigs that don’t have FDA approval (it isn’t, yet). However, he allowed the city to keep a statement saying that passing the ballot measure would strike down the current ban.