In the age of social media, it’s become common practice to spread misinformation in order to further a narrative. Unfortunately, facts and the truth they represent come under intense scrutiny and are sometimes just brushed aside. This is an occurrence we see often with extremely polarizing issues. And this is what leads us to the tug of war we are seeing in the world of vaping. With its tremendous rise in popularity over the past couple of years, there has been an intense focus on both the risks and benefits that come from vaping. This focus was magnified in 2019 when we were faced with a full-blown vaping epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control (2020), the first vaping-associated lung illnesses were identified in Illinois and Wisconsin in April 2019, with cases peaking in September 2019 and slowly declining thereafter. In all, the CDC reported that there were a total of 2,807 hospitalized cases, including 60 confirmed deaths, as of February 2020.
The alarming number of cases in 2019 not only made headline news, but also left many companies in the vaping industry scrambling to find solutions. One company that is taking initiative and believes it has perfected vaping cartridges to combat all the issues we’ll dive into over the course of this article, is FLO, a Southern California based company that assembles and designs vaping cartridges in the United States. FLO’s sole purpose is to not only deliver a flawless product, but also give consumers peace of mind that they won’t end up in the hospital with a lung related illness tied directly to vaping. So, what exactly are the issues that FLO, and many other vaping companies, up against? For one, things were so serious that the US government attempted to completely regulate the vaping industry by removing all flavored vaping products before coming to their senses and raising the legal purchasing age for tobacco and vaping products to 21.
While raising the legal smoking age to 21 does make it a tad more difficult for teenagers to get their hands onto smoking products, it still doesn’t accurately depict the issues with these vaping products in the first place. According to the CDC, the median age of individuals who were hospitalized with severe lung illnesses linked to vaping were 24 years old. Furthermore, 79% of hospitalizations and deaths were of persons under 35 years old, with the ages ranging from 13 to 75 years (CDC 2019). What these numbers illustrate is that any age is at risk, so raising the legal age to 21 doesn’t necessarily solve the issues that were stemming from the epidemic.
Raising the legal age is a positive, especially considering what the alternative was, but we need to truly understand what the main culprits of the vaping epidemic were. One issue may stem from Vitamin E Acetate being found in vaping products, which is used as an additive or thickening agent. Consider what Vitamin E Acetate is used for and what it would be like to actually inhale it. Research has shown that while the chemical is used in supplements and skin creams and does not cause harm when swallowed or used topically, it can impair people’s lung function when inhaled. According to health officials of the CDC, the chemical turned up in “every sample of lung fluid collected from 29 patients with vaping-related illnesses in 2019” and is being used as an ingredient in THC (Thielking, 2019). Finding Vitamin E Acetate in every sample taken in 2019 could also explain why the epidemic suddenly sprung up in 2019 and not before, even though vaping has been around for a number of years now.
Even though vitamin E acetate appears associated with vaping-related illnesses, there still seems to be layers to what brought on the epidemic. According to Kathleen Raven of Yale Medicine, we shouldn’t be so quick to blame this just on vitamin E acetate because “officials stressed their findings remain inconclusive, and more than one chemical could be contributing to lung damage” (2019). So, if health officials are cautioning the public to not directly blame vitamin E acetate, then it stands to reason there are other issues at play here. In a study done by Monique Williams of Scientific Reports, a topography on chemical elements and metals in the aerosol of tank-style e-cigarettes was conducted. The aim of this study was to examine other culprits in vaping leading to lung related illnesses. What the study found was a bevy of heavy metals in these vapors, which were: aluminum, copper, calcium, chromium, iron, lead, magnesium, nickel, silicon, tin and zinc (Williams, 2019). When the liquid is heated in these e-cigarettes, the metals essentially leach from the heating coil. Ultimately, the more metal parts you find in an e-cigarette, the more likely heavy metals are going to be present.
So, who is to blame for all this? Is it cheap material being used by manufacturers in China, which is the world’s biggest manufacturer and exporter of e-cigarettes, according to the China Electronic Cigarette Chamber of Commerce. According to Michael Blood of the Associated Press, “Bootleggers eager to profit off unsuspecting consumers are mimicking popular, legal vape brands, pairing replica packaging churned out in Chinese factories with untested, possibly dangerous cannabis oil produced in the state’s vast underground market” (2019). Think about the combination of cheap materials and counterfeit cartridges and the recipe for disaster this can create. Now, one cannot just simply put all the blame on China for the vaping epidemic, but with the country being a hotbed for vaping manufacturers, there are a lot of fingers being pointed at them, and rightfully so. There have been numerous lawsuits against vaping manufacturers from China, which have also included some American companies. According to Business Wire, in May 2020 “DS Technology Licensing, the owner of registered trademarks associated with the ‘Puff Bar’ vapor device, and Puff Inc., an authorized US distributor, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against over 20 Chinese and American companies accused of distributing counterfeit vaping devices” (2020).
The firestorm of illnesses and the fear of cheap counterfeit products led to a dramatic drop in e-cigarette sales in 2019. Jane Technologies Inc. reported that the market share for vapes was down 15% with medical states, including Oregon, and in states with high levels of cannabis tourism, such as Nevada and Massachusetts, showing the worst declines (CNBC Market Watch, 2019). Furthermore, vapes’ share of sales fell 65% in New Mexico, down 62% in Oregon, down 37% in Massachusetts and 32% in Nevada. As the illness wore on in 2019, so did the decline in numbers across the country.
And to be frank, much of this was expected with the 24-hour news cycle churning out one negative article about vaping after another. With a bullseye now on counterfeit vaping products and the lack of regulation on the market, Chinese e-commerce sites like Alibaba began to take notice and remove e-cigarette components in the United States. According to a report in Reuters, Alibaba began to feel the pressure as their lack of regulating what was being sold on their site came in to the spotlight as “many reports of death and injury in the United States have been tied to makeshift brands with no identifiable owner” (Horwitz, 2019). Before removing these products, it was very easy for consumers to hop on to Alibaba and purchase devices, component parts and packing from the site. The move to suspend these sales to the US spoke volumes to the connection these counterfeit products had to the illnesses. Another Chinese ecommerce site, DHGate, has also been accused of allowing counterfeit vaping products to be sold with no regulation. So, this is definitely a problem that even stems from the ecommerce world.
Considering all of the issues outlined, what steps have legitimate vaping companies taken to ensure that their products are both safe and reliable? We’ve already outlined the suspension of counterfeit vaping products and the legal aspect of the whole situation, but as research has shown, this does not really move the needle in terms of solving anything. One step companies have taken is to create vaping cartridges that are free of heavy metals. Companies like Peak Supply Co., O2 Vape, BBTank, and Global Meds Outlet have attempted to create all glass or all ceramic cartridges to combat heavy metal issues. BBTank, for example, has had to take down their all-glass cartridges because they began to emit a foul odor. Global Meds Outlet has touted their numerous testing rounds on their cartridges that have yielded a trace of non metals, but they do use titanium coils. The issue with titanium is that if it is dry burned then it can reach unsafe levels of toxicity and have a negative effect on lung health (Shakeel, Muhammed et al., 2015). Consequently, products from these companies have been known to have weak airflow, less-than-ideal fragile glass, and cart oil leakage due to users having to take out the cap when they remove the battery and screw on the bottom. This is not to say that these companies are not making strides in the right direction, but the jury is still out on these products over the long run.
All this ultimately circles us back to FLO and their mission to put forth a reliable and trustworthy product. Being able to assemble all their vaping cartridges locally allows their leadership to oversee the entire operation and make sure all regulations and standards are met. This is in contrast to the majority of vaping companies who manufacture from China, like BBTank, and have to deal with the repercussions of inadequate material. With everything that has gone on in 2019 with the vaping epidemic, and the connection of counterfeit products to Chinese manufacturers, consumers may have peace of mind knowing they can turn to a company that manufactures locally. To combat the issues that companies have faced with their vaping cartridges, FLO uses extremely heat-resistant organic Plexiglass, which has 0 heavy metals. FLO has also perfected the exact diameter thickness, heating resistance and equipped the cartridges with patented ceramic coil technology, which allows for perfect heating temperatures that will not leave a smell after using and more than adequate air flow. Another important factor to FLO’s glass cartridges is that they are tamper proof after being assembled. Most class cartridges that can be screwed back out from the bottom have caused leakages when consumers have attempted to unscrew the battery from the cartridge only to unscrew the cap holding the cartridge together. As you can imagine, this can be pretty infuriating to deal with. FLO has made sure that they’ve covered each and every issue the consumer may run into.
Look, ultimately, vaping is not going to land on anyone’s “most healthy” list. The fact of the matter is that there will always be risks. But, trustworthy and diligent companies like FLO do everything in their power to mitigate these risks as much as possible. Adult smokers need alternatives to cigarettes and giving them a safer and more reliable option is still important. FLO is leading the charge into a new era of vaping where counterfeits, heavy metals, and inadequate products are the furthest things from the consumer’s mind.
All Flo products are available for purchase at Catalyst Dispensaries. Visit them today!
Blood, Michael. Knockoff Pot Vapes Raise Concerns for Licensed Companies. Associated Press. 17 September 2019. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/5817cb09f1b941878013e19e27990fc2
Business Wire. Owner and Distributor of Puff Bar Vapor Device File $75 Million Lawsuit Against American and Chinese Counterfeiters. 18 May 2020. Retrieved from https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200518005215/en/Owner-Distributor-of-Puff-Bar-Vapor-Device-File-75-Million-Lawsuit-Against-American-and-Chinese-Counterfeiters
CDC. Characteristics of E-cigarette, or Vaping, Products Used by Patients with Associated Lung Injury and Products Seized by Law Enforcement — Minnesota, 2018 and 2019. 27 November 2019. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6847e1.htm?s_cid=mm6847e1_w
CDC. Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products. 25 February 2020. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html
CDC. Youth and Tobacco Use. 9 September 2020. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/youth_data/tobacco_use/index.htm
Horwitz, Josh. Alibaba to Stop Sales of E-Cigarette Components in United States. Reuters. 8 October 2019. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-alibaba-cigarettes/alibaba-to-stop-sales-of-e-cigarette-components-in-united-states-idUSKBN1WO0A3
Linnane, Ciara. Vape Sales are Falling on Fears About the Outbreak of Vaping-Related Lung Illness. MarketWatch. 24 September 2019. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/vape-sales-are-falling-on-fears-about-the-outbreak-of-vaping-related-lung-illness-2019-09-23
Raven, Kathleen. Teen Vaping Linked to More Health Risks. Yale Medicine. 18 December 2019. Retrieved from https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/teen-vaping/
Shakeel, Muhammed, et al. Toxicity of Nano-Titanium Dioxide Through Various Routes of Exposure: a Review. National Library of Medicine. 11 November 2015. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26554951/
Thielking, Megan. New CDC Report Offers a Possible Clue about why Vaping Illnesses Sprang Up in 2019. STAT. 26 November 2019. Retrieved from https://www.statnews.com/2019/11/26/new-cdc-report-clue-vaping-illness/
Williams, Monique et al. Effects of Model, Method of Collection, and Topography on Chemical Elements and Metals in the Aerosol of Tank-Style Electronic Cigarettes. Scientific Reports, Article Number 13969. 27 September 2019. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-50441-4
Wu, Jasmine. E-cigarette Sales Slowing, Led By Juul, Amid Negative Headlines. CNBC. 1 October 2019. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/01/e-cigarette-sales-slowing-led-by-juul-amid-negative-headlines.html
Published: June 03, 2021
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News