For the first time in its brief and glorious history, Vape Nation is under siege. The culprit is unknown, but we know that hundreds of Americans have been sickened by some vaguely defined respiratory illness. Several have been afflicted to the point of death. The whole situation has been very vague and ambiguous. The only thing close to a common thread among the cases publicized so far is their use of vape pens. People are starting to panic.
What began as mere rumor and internet chatter officially became a thing in mid-September, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the start of a criminal probe into the matter. In California, which is basically the capital of Vape Nation, health officials issued a blanket statement suggesting that people should cool it with the vaping altogether. Meanwhile, the infamous Juul company saw its merger plans scuttled by Philip Morris. Its CEO was given the Old Yeller treatment as their stock price collapsed in the wake of these recent developments. This news comes at a most inconvenient time; many states (including ours) are just starting to ramp up their petition drives to get full legalization onto next year’s ballots. Opponents of this agenda have already seized on the recent controversies to propose holding off on such initiatives until further research can be done.
As this multimillion dollar industry comes into the regulatory crosshairs of our federal government, there has been no specific model of hardware or oil pinpointed yet, so the entire industry is on pins and needles. Vaping has been the preferred delivery method in modern times. The devices allow for a more accessible and measured smoking experience, with less mess and smell than joints, blunts, bowls, soda cans, apples, etc. That has given vapes particular appeal with seniors and the professional class, and the devices have really helped carry overall cannabis sales beyond the billion-dollar mark, in the process creating its own self-contained cultural phenomenon. All of that is in jeopardy now.
For an insider’s perspective, I turned to a good friend of mine, a trauma nurse in Tampa. Let’s call her “Lupe the Wolf.” She’s had no first-hand experience of any cases yet, but the chatter has made its way all the way down to South Florida. “It basically is not OK to inhale anything into your lungs, other than air or prescribed medications, just sayin’,” she says. “I’m guessing the stuff is tainted, or never really had any safety studies. It’s basically the same routine that tobacco companies tried to pull.”
“Just from my observation of vapers, they really vape the hell out of those things,” she says. “The fog absolutely billows out of them. I think they inhale deeper, into deeper parts of their lungs than cigarette smokers. I also think it’s less noxious, so they vape excessively.” As to the nature of the illness itself, Lupe guesses that “it could be straight up pneumonia that turns to ARDS [Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome], especially in younger folk.”
Lupe has no idea what’s going to happen next, but she has a sense of how it happened. “[Vapers] should not have ever been allowed in the country,” she says. “But assault rifles shouldn’t be here, either, so here we are.” But where, exactly, are we? No one seems to know, not yet.