A Big Island businessman whose stores sell vaping supplies said legitimate vape manufacturers and retailers are being scapegoated for a recent rash of lung injuries reportedly caused by the use of e-cigarettes or vaping products.
“All the reports I see, the people are not buying it from stores,” said Mariner Revell, owner of Irie Hawaii, on Friday. “The products are all illegal. Either they’re homemade or illegal THC products or what not. We’ve been selling vape for 10 years and have not had one person injured, one complaint. How come, all of a sudden in the last couple of months, all of these problems are coming up?”
Revell’s comments came after the state Department of Health reported Friday it is investigating two additional cases of lung injury related to the use of e-cigarette or vaping products and advised everyone “to stop vaping, no matter the substance or source, until current nationwide investigations are complete.”
The state said the number of confirmed cases of lung injuries is now four, “with one individual confirmed in each county.” Two of the individuals are adolescents and two are adults, according to the DOH. All were hospitalized and have recovered.
“E-cigarettes and vaping products are not safe,” said state Director of Health Bruce Anderson. “The public should refrain from using these products, regardless of whether they contain nicotine or THC.”
As of Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,172 confirmed and probable lung injury cases associated with use of e-cigarettes or vaping products reported by 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. This includes 42 deaths confirmed in 24 states and the District of Columbia.
The Food and Drug Administration and state health laboratories detected Vitamin E acetate — a synthetic form of Vitamin E — in a sample of vaping fluids also containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main active compound in marijuana. In a sample of lung fluid from 29 ill patients, all 29 tested positive for Vitamin E acetate.
Twenty, or 69%, of these patients stated they were vaping marijuana.
Other patients using nicotine, or a combination of nicotine and THC, also developed symptoms.
“It’s a serious problem, but you’ve got to look at the root of the problem. It’s not coming from our stores,” Revell said. “I haven’t seen one case where one legitimate vaping manufacturer is to blame. I’ve seen cheap vaping hardware from China with metals coming out of their coils, their elements, causing this, to Vitamin E acetates. And it’s not the Vitamin E acetates in this, it’s the illegal THC vape with whatever they liquefy their THC with. And they’re blaming it on flavors. And it’s not the flavors. It’s the illegal manufacturers on the street.”
The DOH cautioned against the use of “off-market” products, including those available through the internet, purchased from people on the street or are homemade, especially off-market products with liquids containing THC.
The department said evidence points to a higher incidence of negative health impacts among users of off-market THC products, but some patients suffering negative health impacts report using only nicotine products or products obtained on the market.
Revell said his stores sell “adult products” only to consumers 21 or older, and Jose Miranda-Kepa, an Irie Hawaii store manager, argued if authorities are concerned about underage users, they could consider possession laws to prosecute users younger than 21, as they do with alcohol.
“Someone who is under 21 who is in possession of alcohol can get arrested,” Miranda-Jose said. “There’s no possession law for cigarettes or vape products. If they got arrested for consuming it or having it in their possession, I think they might be a bit more inclined not to do it.”
Revell said his business and others that sell e-cigarettes and vaping products are affected by media reports of lung injuries caused by vaping.
“It’s really unfortunate that the press reports that vaping is bad — and then, in small parentheses, (it’s) from all these illegal substances,” he said. “It’s not the stuff you’re buying in stores from professional vape manufacturers.”
According to the DOH, those who recently used a vaping device and are experiencing symptoms — including coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever or abdominal pain — should see a health care provider.
They also can call the Hawaii Poison Hotline at 1-800-222-1222 at anytime 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.