Monday, September 30, 2019

In Response to Two Deaths Due to Marijuana Vaping, Oregon Health Department Recommends Ban on Nicotine-Containing Electronic Cigarettes

In response to two deaths that it says were attributable to vaping cannabis purchased from legal state dispensaries and three additional cases that were linked to cannabis products purchased from state dispensaries, the Oregon Health Authority is recommending that all nicotine-containing (non-cannabis) electronic cigarettes should be banned for six months.

According to an article by Oregon Public Broadcasting: "Officials with the Oregon Health Authority recommended Gov. Kate Brown ban vaping products in the state for six months, following a second vaping-related death Thursday." This recommendation is for a ban on all vaping products, both THC and nicotine e-liquids.

Later in the same article, we learn that: "the most recent death followed the same pattern as past cases: an adult, who experienced severe respiratory injuries after vaping cannabis products purchased from a licensed retailer." And in an article published in the Salem Reporter, we learn that all five of the reported cases in Oregon are associated with the use of "licensed cannabis products."

The Oregon state health department warned the public against any vaping: "At a press conference Thursday announcing the latest death, health officials were adamant: No one in Oregon should still be vaping. “No level of vaping is safe,” Sidelinger said. “With these acute respiratory injuries and deaths, we do urge all individuals to stop vaping, whether that’s nicotine-based products, cannabis products or other products.”"

The state health officer closed by saying that: "With the root cause of these vaping-related illnesses still unknown, Sidelinger said it’s likely health officials are going to see “increased number of cases and, tragically, more deaths.”"

The Rest of the Story

Actually, the reason that health officials are going to see increased number of cases and more deaths is not that the root cause of these vaping-related illnesses is still unknown, but because the root cause is known but officials like Dr. Sidelinger are disregarding this critical information.

Even after the CDC has finally admitted that vaping THC, potentially contaminated with vitamin E acetate oil, is the chief culprit in the outbreak, and even after the Oregon Health Authority itself admits that all five of the state's outbreak cases are associated with the vaping of cannabis products purchased from state dispensaries, the Oregon state health department is still ignoring, undermining, and hiding that critical information from the public by claiming that we still have no idea what is going on and that people should stop vaping anything, no matter the situation, no matter what the ingredients are, no matter how long they have been using these products without a problem and without changes in their ingredients, and no matter where they are obtaining those vaping products.

The health department's warning is so vague and so general that people - especially young people - are not going to take it seriously.

By not issuing an explicit warning against vaping marijuana, the Oregon Health Authority is hiding critical information and undermining the known role that THC vape cartridges are known to be playing in this outbreak. And that is going to lead to people, especially youth, continuing to vape marijuana as the warning is just not specific enough.

In fact, the health warning issued by the Oregon Health Authority specifically mentions not vaping e-cigarettes, but does not specifically caution against vaping THC vape cartridges.

This all-too-vague warning is irresponsible not only because it is going to make the outbreak worse, not better, but because it is also going to cause enormous health damage to former smokers in the state who have quit smoking by switching to electronic cigarettes. The health department is telling them in no uncertain terms to discontinue the use of their e-cigarettes, which is tantamount to telling them to go back to smoking.

Ironically, after the first death in Oregon occurred and was linked to THC vaping of a product purchased at a licensed state dispensary, the Oregon Health Authority decided not to close down the two dispensaries whose products were implicated, defending its decision by arguing that it would be unfair to close down a business without clear evidence that its products were implicated.

According to an article in Willamette Week:

"Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the OHA, says just because the person bought products from these two stores doesn't mean it was necessarily the stores' products that killed the person."It doesn't necessarily mean the individual got sick from products that they had purchased at these dispensaries, we just know that the individual shopped at a couple of dispensaries prior to getting ill," says Modie. "We're still waiting to get samples of the products and then we send that off for testing." 

"When WW asked if it wouldn't be better to shut down a store that potentially sold a lethal product to a customer, Modie replied, "How do you think the dispensary operator would feel if it turned out that the product wasn't theirs? We wouldn't want to name or point to a specific dispensary before we have all of the information that says unequivocally that that was the dispensary where the product was sold that made the individual sick," says Modie."

So let's get this straight: When the Oregon Health Authority had a direct link between a death from the outbreak and cannabis vaping cartridges purchased at two dispensaries that they regulate, they emphasized that they didn't want the dispensary operators to feel bad if it turned out that the product wasn't responsible for the death, but weeks later - when it appears much clearer that vaping marijuana and not store-bought nicotine e-liquids is the primary culprit in the outbreak - they are perfectly OK with shutting down every vape shop in the state, even the hundreds that don't sell THC vape cartridges in the first place and whose products have not been implicated in the slightest way. 

There is now even more evidence that THC vaping products are playing a major role (if not the only role) in the outbreak. Iowa has now reported that of 23 cases in the state, 18 patients have admitted to using THC vapes. Officials in Texas have now reported that at least 75% of the case patients in that state have admitted to vaping THC. And it has now been revealed that the death reported in Indiana, which was previously not attributed to any particular product, was associated with THC vaping.

Thus, every death for which information has been released about the products used has been associated with vaping marijuana. And more importantly, every single reported case in Oregon has been associated with vaping cannabis purchased at state dispensaries.

The rest of the story is that the Oregon Health Authority appears to have a vendetta against nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, and it is going to great lengths to protect marijuana dispensaries that it regulates and whose products appear to be responsible for two deaths and three life-threatening cases, while attacking retail stores and vape shops whose products have not been implicated with even the slightest bit of evidence.

In some ways, the Oregon Health Authority actually bears some responsibility for these two deaths because it apparently failed to properly regulate the state's marijuana dispensaries. It appears that the health department failed to require testing of dispensary vaping liquids for vitamin E acetate oil and other cutting agents. This is what led to the sale of an oil-based e-liquid that should never have been on the shelves in the first place. 

Rather than pointing the finger at every retail store and vape shape in the state that is selling water-based e-liquids, the Oregon Health Authority should first be pointing the finger at itself and apologizing to the victims' families for not properly regulating the state's marijuana dispensaries and allowing them to sell oil-laden THC liquids that have no business being sold anywhere.

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