It was marketed as a unique and safe alternative to smoking, a cool high tech gizmo with an assortment of flavors and colorful cartridges that easily popped into a slick dispenser, creating a flavorful vapor that one would inhale similar to someone smoking a traditional cigarette, however without the social stigma, odor and the deadly health risks associated with cigarettes.
However, all that changed early this year as reports began to surface of young people contracting mysterious lung illnesses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began investigating a series of lung illnesses reported across multiple states linked to perhaps the new craze that was now sweeping across the country among middle and high school kids.
In the Midwest dozens of teens were suddenly hospitalized with a multitude of mysterious lung issues mimicking pneumonia, however, physicians were baffled in that although the symptoms seemed identical, the treatment reveled the lung illnesses wasn’t pneumonia.
Patients reported similar symptoms, shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, and vomiting in some cases, and some were admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).
After an extensive investigation, one single pattern began to emerge. All the teens admitted to vaping. Teens across the states reported using vaping devices for both nicotine and THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high” sensation, prior to their hospitalization.
Although it’s illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors, the staggering number of middle school student’s vaping in 2018 has increased to where 1 out of every 20 kids (4.9%) has used a vaping and or electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days.
Last year, the Surgeon General of the United States, Jerome Adams, declared vaping among American teens an “epidemic.”
“This is an unprecedented challenge,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar acknowledged.
Moreover with the “epidemic” comes a growing black-market for the growing dangerous product.
Recently CBS News went undercover in Los Angeles, the hypocenter of the illicit black-market manufacturing potentially dangerous and deadly THC vaping products that end up on America’s streets, and within high school bathrooms all over the country.
CBS News took hidden cameras to a warehouse 75 miles east of Los Angeles, where the marijuana black market was being produced.
There is, of course, no quality control, in that the various THC oils being used are unregulated. The buyer has no idea what’s inside those cartridges or how it could impact a user’s health, even though every seller claims his product is pure.
The underground warehouse like the one in LA produces large quantities of vaper products with enticing names like “strawberry bubble gum” and “dirty Sprite,” especially for customers who buy hundreds of vapes at a time, for the sole purpose of reselling them nationwide.
With flavors like “strawberry bubble gum” and “dirty Sprite,” people come to underground warehouses like the one in Los Angeles to buy hundreds of vapes at a time, just to resell them nationwide.
Mark Hoashi CEO and founder of Doja, an app that provides customer reviews of cannabis products, noticed awhile back before the vaper death outbreaks, that people he knew were suddenly getting sick. “They were getting headaches on this product and that product,” he said.
“The current black market comes with, you know, a cartridge that has a brand, that has a social media, that has websites,” Hoashi said. “It’s really hard to distinguish between what is a legal cannabis product and what is an illicit product.”
CBS News took the black market vapes to BelCosta Labs in Long Beach, California.
“What’s the worst thing you’ve ever found?” CBS News asked.
“I’d say predominately in the underground market, what we’re seeing is a slew of pesticides,” said BelCosta Labs CEO Myron Ronay.
Such was the case with the illicit vapes CBS News picked up. All 5 illicit vapes failed, worst yet all had deadly pesticides, including one called myclobutanil. “When you heat myclobutanil, you’re then getting hydrogen cyanide,” Ronay said.
“What’s the message here?” CBS News asked.
“Buy legal. If you’re in a state that doesn’t have legal cannabis, don’t buy it,” Ronay said.