How Will the Latest Vaping Crackdowns Affect Cannabis Vapers?
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The end of 2019 saw the 'vaping crisis' in North America. As of January 7 this year, over 50 people have died and thousands were left inflicted with lung injuries linked to tobacco and cannabis vaping products containing vitamin E acetate.
Now, in a bid to tackle the risks associated with these vape products, the United States and Canada are cracking down hard on the vape industry, but what might this mean for cannabis?
Canada prepares to assess vape health effects
Last month, Health Canada said it would be preparing to test the emissions from cannabis vape products, amidst health and safety fears.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says that it has been informed of 15 cases of vaping-related lung illnesses, the majority linked to illicit vape products. But because Canada legalized cannabis vape products recently as a part of its ‘Cannabis 2.0’ rollout, Health Canada is now scaling up its vape research.
Agency spokesperson Eric Morrissette told CBC News that Health Canada has “research underway” studying the emissions produced by nicotine e-cigarettes and vapes, and will now be “expanding” its “laboratory capabilities” to begin testing the cannabis vape products that appear on the market.
The decision from Health Canada appears to follow revelations published in a CBC News report last December, which revealed that the agency had not carried out any testing on the health effects related to cannabis vaping, despite the imminent legalization of the products.
Vape products will continue to be sold in Canada while research continues, though the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec have individually taken measures to ban the sale of all cannabis vape products within their borders. Nova Scotia has also decided to not allow the sale of flavored cannabis vape products, in keeping with their policy that also prohibits the sale of flavored tobacco e-cigarettes.
US FDA wants to remove flavored tobacco vapes from the market
Nova Scotia isn’t the only authority deciding to crackdown on flavored vape products in the wake of the vape illness outbreak.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week announced that it would be bringing in new restrictions on these products, ordering companies to remove their flavored vape products from the market within 30 days. Tobacco and menthol flavored vape cartridges will still be allowed. The FDA has promised that companies will face tough regulatory action if they fail to follow this new rule.
In a statement, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn explained the decision, saying, “we believe this policy balances the urgency with which we must address the public health threat of youth use of e-cigarette products with the potential role that e-cigarettes may play in helping adult smokers transition completely away from combustible tobacco to a potentially less risky form of nicotine delivery.”
To put this decision in its full context, the vape-related injuries that have been reported to US officials have mostly been linked to vapes containing the cutting agent vitamin E acetate. While this ingredient isn’t exclusive to cannabis vapes, it has been seen more commonly in THC-containing vape products, specifically in black market cannabis vape products.
The introduction of a ban on flavored vapes appears to be geared towards repressing the rates of vape use across the board, rather than directly addressing the problem of dangerous vape products.
The flavored vape ban has been introduced at the federal level, where cannabis still remains a controlled substance, and so the FDA’s actions will not apply to legal cannabis products as these are regulated at the state-level. Still, it’s possible that the move might encourage more states to introduce their own restrictions on cannabis vapes within their own legal markets – just as Washington state, Massachusetts, and Michigan have done, or have recently tried to do.
Many people involved in the cannabis industry have lambasted bans like these as backwards measures that would “only exacerbate the problem.” By legalizing cannabis and properly regulating the industry at the federal level, they say, the US could more properly ensure a supply of legal cannabis products that do not contain the harmful vitamin E acetate additive.
Social media gets tough on vape promotion
And it isn’t just countries who are tightening up on vape promotion, the digital space is too.
The Facebook-owned social media platform Instagram has revealed it will begin harsher enforcement of policies that prohibit the promotion of vaping by social media influencers. The policies also prohibit the promotion of tobacco use and weapons by these influencers, and the production of branded content focusing on alcohol and diet supplements.
“Our advertising policies have long prohibited the advertisement of these products, and we will begin enforcement on this in the coming weeks,” Instagram wrote in a blog post.
While the social media platform had always prohibited vape companies from producing advertisements, companies had begun to skirt these restrictions by having popular influencers on the platform endorse their products. Instagram says it’s now “updating our policies to include clearer rules for the paid promotion of certain goods and services” in order to have appropriate “tools and policies that provide transparency and protect our community.”
The photo-sharing social media platform also says that the promotion of cannabis products has always been banned, and that the new enforcement action is intended to focus on tobacco vaping.
“Content that attempts to buy, sell or trade marijuana, including marijuana vape products, is not allowed on Instagram," a Facebook spokesperson told Benzinga.
"Our policy prohibits any marijuana seller, including dispensaries, from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers or street addresses. We do allow marijuana advocacy content as long as it is not promoting the sale of the drug."
But the cannabis entrepreneurs and influencers who are still active on Instagram believe the stricter policy enforcement will impact their use of the platform.
Bentley Rolling, who is an California-based photographer and filmmaker with focus on cannabis, told reporters that “with the extreme uproar around vaping-related illnesses, it was only a matter of time.”
“As a community, we’ve gotten used to living in a perpetual gray area. What we’ve come to learn over the years is to never give up. They can try to silence our community, but we’re here and we’re not going anywhere. The key to legalization is education.”