Since summer, the United States has been dealing with an outbreak of a mysterious vaping lung illness that’s sickened more than 1,000 people and killed at least 21. The illness behaves like an extremely severe form of pneumonia, but it isn’t caused by an infection. Rather, it’s caused by a substance that gets stuck in the lungs and triggers the body’s immune system to attack the substance as if it were a pathogen.

Although the mainstream media continues to concentrate its attention on all forms of vaping when reporting on the illness, the fact is that only one type of vaping – illicit THC vaping – has actually been shown to cause the illness.

health economic impact vaping ban

Infographic by E-Cigarette Empire.

Nicotine Vaping Finds an Unlikely Champion

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb – hardly the greatest ally of the e-liquid vaping industry – correctly pointed out back in August what should have already been obvious to everyone concerned when he tweeted that the “tragedies point to illegal vapes and THC.” The FDA has regulated the nicotine vaping industry since 2017. Since then, e-liquid makers have been required to register their formulas with the FDA, and they have not been allowed to change those formulas or create new ones without first obtaining FDA approval.

The vaping lung illness, on the other hand, is new. It began to explode during the summer of 2019. Therefore, it must come from a segment of the vaping industry that isn’t regulated. It must be a new ingredient, additive or contamination that wasn’t there before. Gottlieb called it right; the summer of 2019 was exactly when the use of Honey Cut and other Vitamin E-based thickeners for THC vaping cartridges exploded. Now, we know that the Vitamin E acetate that’s so commonly used to thicken and dilute illegal THC cartridges is the most likely cause of the illness.

As state governments began to ban e-liquid flavors – or ban vaping entirely – President Trump appeared on national television and announced a proposed e-liquid flavor ban that would affect the entire country. Gottlieb again stepped up, tweeting “at what point do they also instigate efforts to reign in […] unregulated cannabis products?”

Well, the FDA has finally said something.

FDA Releases Statement Telling People to Stop Vaping THC Oil

On October 4, acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless released a statement finally confirming what most of us in the legitimate vaping community knew all along: Illegal THC oil vaping cartridges are causing the lung illness. In the statement, Commissioner Sharpless said that most of the vaping product samples that the FDA has received for testing have contained THC. In addition, most of the victims of the illness have admitted to vaping THC.

The statement from the FDA is a firm warning that, to protect their health and safety, all American citizens should follow these instructions:

  • Don’t use any vaping product containing THC.
  • Don’t add THC oil or any other oil to any vaping product.
  • Don’t buy any vaping product through any channel except through licensed and legal sellers.

Vaping Busts Uncover Thousands of Illicit THC Cartridges

In his statement, Commissioner Sharpless also said that anyone earning money from producing vaping products that are making people sick is committing a criminal act and will be punished to the fullest possible extent. Authorities around the nation are working tirelessly to track these illegal and dangerous THC vaping cartridges back to their sources, and recent drug busts have already pulled many thousands of illegal THC cartridges off of the market.

  • In Wisconsin, police busted a THC vape cartridge operation and seized 31,200 full cartridges. The brothers who allegedly produced the cartridges were selling as many as 5,000 of them per day.
  • In a record drug bust, Minnesota police busted an operation in Coon Rapids and seized more than 76,000 THC vape cartridges with a value of about $3.8 million. A 22-year-old suspect was allegedly selling the illicit cartridges out of his home.
  • In another Wisconsin bust, Walworth County police seized several pounds of marijuana along with many large piles of THC vaping cartridges.
  • In West Jordan, Utah, police busted a local gang that it said was selling THC vape cartridges on Snapchat. Police seized hundreds of THC cartridges in the raid.
  • In Phoenix, Arizona, police busted a drug production operation at a local residence. Within the residence, two 23-year-old men were allegedly using butane extraction equipment to extract THC oil and fill vaping cartridges. The police seized more than 1,000 vape cartridges and 300 pounds of marijuana along with several jars of THC oil.

Drug busts like these are only the beginning. Now that authorities are aware of the fact that illicit THC vaping cartridges are actively sickening and killing people – many of whom are children – they will put the full strength of their resources toward tracking those cartridges back to their sources.

Leafly investigated the illicit THC vaping market and found that as many as 50 million illegal THC cartridges are on the street and in distribution right now.

Trump Backs Down From Proposed E-Liquid Flavor Ban?

Here’s the good news for all of us in the legitimate nicotine vaping community: Now that the FDA and CDC have both pointed their fingers at THC vaping as the cause of the lung illness, we can all worry a little less about politicians who seem intent on targeting nicotine e-liquid as the cause. It’s obvious that commercial nicotine e-liquid, purchased from legitimate vape shops, is not causing people to get sick in this way.

You may have also noticed that President Trump has said nothing about his proposed e-liquid flavor ban since announcing it on September 11. Since that time, some interesting new research has come out. It turns out that, in all the “swing states” in which Trump won or lost by small margins in the 2016 election, those margins are dwarfed by the number of people who vape. If Trump sinks the vaping industry – and those who vape vote against him out of spite – he will almost certainly lose his bid for reelection in 2020. It turns out that we might not be losing our vapes just yet, after all.