Responses to The Vaping Crisis Are Insane at All Levels 

Politicians and conspiracy theorists are making the problem worse.

click to enlarge Comedian Adam Tod Brown updated a poster from the 1942 film ”Devil’s Harvest” to fit current times. It didn’t take a lot of work.

Comedian Adam Tod Brown updated a poster from the 1942 film ”Devil’s Harvest” to fit current times. It didn’t take a lot of work.

Maybe because we live in the era of governments making bad decisions, and people acting like lunatics on the Internet, the responses to the vaping-related outbreak of illnesses and deaths have been overwhelmingly crazy. We'll get to our conspiracy-minded, citizen-journalist friends and their theories below, after a quick summary of the ludicrous responses to this problem by politicians.

For the most complete, up-to-the minute information on the outbreak, go to Leafly.com. As of Monday, 805 illnesses, all or nearly all likely caused by tainted, amateur-made vape cartridges, mostly THC vapes but possibly also some nicotine ones, had been reported in 46 states. The death toll stands at 12. This is a very serious nationwide public-health crisis, but, while career experts with the CDC and state and local health departments are generally handling the situation well (though perhaps going a bit overboard in some cases, as in California, with temporary warnings against using legal vapes), it's a different story for many elected officials, who are using the crisis to grandstand.

Donald Trump (for now, the president) blurted something about instituting some kind of ban on vaping, but nothing he says necessarily means anything, and he is otherwise occupied. Meanwhile, saner politicians have been able to push through some really bad legislation, such as the move in Massachusetts to ban sales of all vapes for four months. Other proposed actions around the country include banning flavored nicotine vapes ("to protect the children") as in Michigan and Ohio.

"The use of e-cigarettes and marijuana vaping products is exploding, and we are seeing reports of serious lung illnesses, particularly in our young people," said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. All that is true, but it doesn't make any sense. The outbreak is almost certainly due mainly, or totally, to the use of illicit vapes, in most if not all cases THC products. Banning the legal ones will not solve this problem, and will send people streaming people into the black market, where the problem lies.

Vapes sold in licensed cannabis shops are tested more thoroughly than most consumer products you'll find on the shelves. And yet, it's the legal cannabis industry that's taking the hit for this outbreak: revenues from THC vapes are reported to be down by at least 15 percent.

That's why it's so weird to go online to see people declaring on social media that "Big Cannabis" is responsible for the outbreak. Elijah Geller of Chico is one example. The outbreak, he declared last month in a cannabis Facebook group, is a "stunt to try and help the legal market while blaming everything on those who were left out of the corporate takeover."

In other comments, Geller defended the notion that the "stunt" was a coordinated effort by tobacco and legal-cannabis interests, the tobacco industry, and the media. He was asked several times why he thought sellers of vapes (which include both cannabis and tobacco companies) would create a crisis that would make people afraid to use vapes. He did not address those questions.

Vague notions of a "conspiracy" are all over the Internet. Under a video report by The Washington Post on YouTube, user "Gungnir" declared that legal cannabis vapes are pushed on consumers thanks to phony research "in the same way Monsanto pays for scientific research to get chemicals into your food." The Post, he said, "is unredeemable" for not mentioning this.

Monsanto. Of course.

On Twitter, user @flashsavior laid out a case that the tobacco companies got into vaping in order to hook people on nicotine by offering "a bunch of cool flavors," sold those for a few years, then unleashed the outbreak to get people to buy cigarettes instead. He concluded his fantastical, Alex-Jones-like theory with, "Im no conspiracy theorist but ..."

Given the tens of billions of dollars R&D and investments in vape companies spent by Big Tobacco, destroying the vape business seems like it would be a risky bet, to say the least. Not that anyone thinks the tobacco companies are incapable of such evil; it just doesn't make any sense. It's a popular idea, though. On a YouTube channel called VapeMeet, a jovial fellow named Nick theorized last week in a video loaded with conspiracy-mongering that Big Tobacco might be "behind the negative press surrounding vaping." Maybe, Nick. But maybe the negative press is due to all the people getting violently ill and dying. Under Nick's video, user Greg C wondered "What about the theory that big tobbaco [sic] is also a form of population control?" Yeah, what about that theory?

There might be good reasons to regulate vapes more tightly, or even ban them altogether. Even if it turns out that every illness was caused by black-market products, there are plenty of concerns about legal vapes, especially the nicotine ones. They contain more non-nicotine chemicals than we were led to believe, and the long-term effects aren't yet known. Nor has there been enough independent testing of THC vapes. And it's certainly the case that the vaping business deserves a lot more scrutiny, and even legal companies can be shady. But going off the deep end isn't a good idea, whether you're some conspiracy monger in Chico or the governor of Massachusetts. 

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