As of Nov. 13, 2019, there have been 2,172 cases of vaping related illnesses, resulting in 43 deaths across the country.

Thankfully, there have been no deaths here in Wisconsin, but it’s gotten close. Vaping related illnesses, predominantly in the youth population, still pop up across the state.

After 11 adolescents in counties ranging from Door to Waukesha were hospitalized for vaping related illnesses, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services made a statement to address the issue.

“We are currently interviewing patients, all of whom reported recent vaping,” the statement said. “Our disease investigators continue to gather information about the names and types of vape products that were used in hopes of determining a common link … we strongly urge people to avoid vaping products and e-cigarettes. Anyone — especially young people who have recently vaped — experiencing unexplained breathing problems should see a doctor.”

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Currently, it is still unknown what exactly causes the illnesses. They seem to be vaping related, but until a clear link is given, political fear mongering and temporary e-cigarette and other electronic vaping device bans need to be stopped. 

The blanket targeting of all vape-related devices from JUUL, to SMOK, to vapor pens should be ended. In their place, a more focused effort on finding and stopping the supply of counterfeit devices, bootleg nicotine/THC pods and liquids should be emphasized.

Evidence-Based Health Policy Project, a joint venture between state agencies, state legislators, research institutions and local hospitals, found more than 50% of the lung fluid of adolescents hospitalized in Wisconsin and across the country had one common liquid in them — Vitamin E acetate.

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Typically, Vitamin E acetate gets added to bootleg pods and vaping/e-cigarette devices to dilute the amount of THC present. Essentially, counterfeit dealers will substitute THC with this acetate to get more bang for their buck and spread out the amount of THC they are able to use, which helps them make more money.

The problem lies with counterfeit dealers and Vitamin E acetate, not with federally compliant and FDA approved smoking devices and pods. 

In September, President Trump announced his intention to pull flavored e-cigarettes from the US market in an effort to suppress the so-called “vaping crisis” happening in America.

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Moreover, legislation addressing tobacco use in Wisconsin such as Tobacco21 and legislation aimed at equating e-cigarettes and vaping devices with traditional cigarettes is being proposed and circulated in the legislature.

Lastly, associations such as the American Medical Association have called for a complete and total ban on all e-cigarette and vaping related devices. Studies have shown a majority of these hospitalizations in this crisis are due to bootleg and street-sold products, not regulated products sold in stores and manufactured by compliant companies.

These proposed federal and state regulations, coupled with organizations calling for a blanket ban, fix nothing. They only ensure the crisis continues unabated and with the wrong focus. 

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Recently in Kenosha County, a fifth man was arrested for his involvement in a black market vaping-ring.

“The business employed 10 workers who manufactured thousands of vape cartridges a day using THC oil purchased in California,” case prosecutors said. “Huffhines told police he sold the cartridges in bulk, $15 each for a purchase of a minimum of 100 cartridges … One detective on the case said the cartridges were then sold on the street for about $35 each.”

Additionally, in Milwaukee, local police made a statement about another arrest related to vaping.

“[Local police] executed a search warrant last Tuesday [late September] and found about two pounds of marijuana inside the home,” local officers said. “They said they found another 18 pounds of marijuana in a garage at the home. Investigators also said Molina and Ware had $935,874 in cash, several guns, 250 rounds of ammunition and 13,509 THC vape cartridges.”

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The THC and vape cartridges found in Kenosha and Milwaukee respectively are without a doubt unregulated, counterfeit and bootleg. 

In total, officials found nearly 25,000 cartridges between the two busts. These cartridges likely contained Vitamin E acetate. Federal vaping bans and state bills such as Tobacco21 will not save lives, but further risk them.

Adolescents, rather than buying regulated vape and e-cigarette products online or in store, could now turn to counterfeit products instead. Until a clear link is given between regulated and monitored products and these illnesses, political fear mongering and temporary e-cigarette and other electronic vaping device bans need to be stopped before more lives are put at risk. 

William Keenan ([email protected]) is a senior studying political science.