Local vape shop owner discusses impact of recent health issues linked to vaping
Brian Johnston, Asbury Park Press
After more than 20 years of smoking tobacco cigarettes, Brock Sharp of Murfreesboro nixed his pack-a-day habit and switched to vaping. Since then Sharp said his respiratory system is “a lot better,” and he’s even lowered his nicotine consumption through use of e-cigarettes.
But a deadly new lung illness associated with vaping has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to warn consumers “to consider refraining from use of all e-cigarette, or vaping, products.”
As of Oct. 15, the CDC reported 1,479 lung injury cases associated with the use of e-cigarettes along with 33 deaths in 24 states. There have been 53 cases in Tennessee, one of those resulting in death, according to Tennessee Department of Health spokeswoman Olivia Spooner.
CDC reports about the dangers of vaping do not give Sharp cause for concern. He’s been vaping for two years with no ill effects. After doing extensive research on vaping, he believes the negative reports are “being pushed by tobacco lobbyists.”
“I know where my (vaping product) comes from and I haven’t had any issues … with my lungs,” said Sharp. “As I understand it, the stuff (causing illnesses) is (illegal THC products) coming from the black market.”
Black market THC an issue
The CDC confirmed that THC is present in “most of the samples tested by the FDA” and those affected by EVALI — the vaping-specific lung condition coined by the CDC — admitted to using products containing THC.
Many of the vaping cartridges containing THC have been deemed have been obtained “off the street or from other informal sources” and it is those “black market” products playing “a major role in the outbreak,” the CDC reported.
Black market producers are using vitamin E acetate to “cut” the THC-laden vaping liquid, the CDC reported. The FDA is analyzing samples for chemicals. So far no single substance, including vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all of the samples tested.
“These are drug dealers that are putting anything in these products, and the issue is not THC itself (but the additive) used,” said Kaleidoscope Vapor owner Stacey Hamilton of Murfreesboro.
Initial reports focused only on vaping in general and not the black market products. Later it was discovered that many of those suffering from the mysterious lung condition did, in fact, consume THC-laden vaping liquid as well as the regulated and legal nicotine products.
The failure to disclose the detailed information regarding black market THC products hurt business for the e-cigarette industry and small business owners, said Hamilton.
‘We suffered a big loss’
“We suffered a big loss. I’d say we were down 70% initially when the stories first broke. We are now recovering. But there are a lot of stores that won’t come back from this,” said Hamilton, president of the Breathe Easier Alliance of Alabama and board member of the national Vapor Technology Association.
Hamilton has seen hundreds of stores across the U.S. close already due to “negative press.”
“The general public look to the CDC, FDA and state health departments to be honest to them and (these agencies) definitely have not been (honest) … about what is truly causing these illnesses,” said Hamilton.
Now public health officials are bringing the issues with black market products to light, but it may be too little too late for the industry.
Hamilton has hoped that health officials will see value in e-cigarettes’ place on the market. She’s seen vaping help many people quit smoking combustible cigarettes — including her father, whose health has improved since switching to vaping, and Brock Sharp.
E-cigarettes have been on the market less than a decade, and it’s the long-term effects — including cancer — that worry Murfreesboro Medical Clinic physician Dr. John Lee.
“Vaping is so new, we won’t really have a good understanding of those risks and/or the biochemistry behind them for quite a while because good research takes so long to produce,” said Lee, a family physician and doctor of osteopathy.
“You may not see any clear evidence of how likely vaping is to cause cancer for quite a while, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t,” the doctor said.
The new technology has also given black market dealers another way to get inferior products on the market.
Even with legal vaping technology, Lee said public health officials will likely never endorse the use of e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to the combustible versions.
Doctor: Flu season complicates things
“Cigarettes have been around long enough that we know more about the various (cancer-causing) carcinogenic compounds that they contain. … Anyone who claims vaping to be safer would be claiming that they know more about the relative safety of something that’s only been around for a few years as compared to smoking which has been studied for decades,” said Lee.
But Hamilton believes that the demonization of e-cigarettes “is costing people’s lives” because they may opt for traditional cigarettes.
“I hold them partially responsible for some of the deaths because they knew the truth and failed to give specific warnings,” said Hamilton.
The arrival of cold and flu season could complicate the health issues with the new vaping-related illness. Effects from respiratory viruses can mimic those associated with EVALI. Lee urged e-cigarette users to be cautious.
“Since the symptoms of ‘sinus gunk’ are a manifestation of your immune system attacking allergens, germs, or chemical irritants like tobacco and e-cig oils, it would be difficult to know what is causing symptoms without a full evaluation by your physician,” said Lee. “If you have any symptoms, concerns or questions, see your physician.”
Reach reporter Nancy DeGennaro at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @NanDeGennaro.
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