UPDATE: State Health Officials Plead: Stop Vaping Now!

A woman uses a vaping device in a promotional photo.

Santa Barbara cannabis dispensaries don’t seem too concerned about recent calls to stop vaping because of the flood of illegal brands prompting California officials to call for a complete halt of the practice.

In response to two deaths and 90 severe breathing problem reports from vaping, the California Department of Public Health issued a health advisory Sept. 24 urging everyone to refrain from the practice, “no matter the substance or source, until current investigations are complete.” 

This follows Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order last week to confront the growing youth epidemic and health risks linked to vaping. Many of the legal cannabis dispensaries on the Central Coast from Grover Beach, Lompoc, Santa Barbara and Port Hueneme sell vape products to adults only.  

The Farmacy Santa Barbara dispensary on Mission Street and Coastal on Chapala Street reported more vape customer questions, but no drop in product sales.

John Giammanco, a general manager of delivery at Coastal Dispensary on Chapala Street, said the company has contacted its vape product vendors who said their wares don’t have the apparently bad ingredient, vitamin E acetate, in them at all.

At the Farmacy, employees shrugged off the problems as more related to Los Angeles where officials are considering a complete ban on the sales of vape products. A black, triangular symbol with a “C” in it on vape products supposedly certifies them as legal, but the symbol appears to be easily duplicated.

Many liquor and tobacco shops also sell vaping devices without cannabis.

In California, licensed cannabis retailers are required to sell products obtained from a licensed manufacturer that have been tested by a certified laboratory. Cannabis products sold by licensed sources are tested for a variety of chemicals, pesticides, microbial impurities and heavy metals. Illegal cannabis dispensaries sell untested cannabis products and absolutely should not be used, officials said. 

Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device. Vaping devices include vape pens and personal vaporizers, also known as “MODS.” 

“We are seeing something that we have not seen before,” said Dr. Charity Dean, acting state public health officer. “There are numerous unknown factors at this time, and due to the uncertainty of the exact cause, it is our recommendation that consumers refrain from vaping until the investigation has concluded.” 

As of Sept. 24, the state health department had received reports that 90 people in California who have a history of vaping were hospitalized for severe breathing problems and lung damage, and two people have died. Across the nation, there are more than 500 reports of lung damage associated with vaping across 38 states and one U.S. territory. More reports are coming in nearly every day. 

Although California regulates manufacturers of cannabis vaping products to ensure they are as safe as possible for those who choose to vape, health officials warn that all individuals put themselves at risk any time they inhale a foreign substance into their lungs. The risk of vaping for any individual may include serious illness and death.  

“Vaping is not just a concern for youth; the vaping cases under investigation affect youth and adults alike,” Dean said. 

California, along with other states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, local health departments, and healthcare providers are working hard to investigate what is in the vape materials that is making people sick.  

If anyone experiences difficulty breathing after vaping, they should contact their doctor immediately, health officials said.  

They may also experience other symptoms including: cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and weight loss. If this happens, victims are asked not to discard any used vaping cartridges they might have. 

The health department is interested in testing the remaining substance in used cartridges. Those cartridges are being collected by local health departments and sent to labs for analysis. 

National health officials continue to warn that any tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe. Furthermore, use of cannabis and tobacco products remains especially unsafe for youth, and for pregnant or breastfeeding women. 

Meanwhile, Juul Labs has agreed to stop advertising its popular e-cigarettes in the United States and announced that its chief executive officer is stepping down as state and federal regulators examine hundreds of cases of people who are sick from what appears to be a vaping-related lung disease. 

The company also said in a Sept. 25 statement that it will not push back on a Trump administration plan to pull flavored e-cigarettes from the market until the controversial products win approval from federal regulators. 

Posted Sept. 25, 2019. 

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