Carson City, Reno vape businesses react after warnings against vaping as lung illness cases rise
For the past three weeks, Gary Janczura, co-owner of Black Rock Vapor, said his vape shop in Sparks has taken a hit.
This is no coincidence.
In early September, Nevada public health authorities urged people to stop using vaping products and e-cigarettes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported three deaths and 450 cases of severe lung illness potentially linked to vaping. The numbers have only gone up since. To date, there have been seven confirmed deaths and 530 cases, according to the CDC. Patients have experienced shortness of breath, chest pains, and even nausea.
“The public health authorities are advising people not to use vaping products and e-cigarettes,” authorities from the Carson City Health and Human Services, Washoe County Health District, and Southern Nevada Health District said in a Sept. 6 statement. “These products should never be used by youth, young adults, pregnant women, and people who do not currently use tobacco products.”
The CDC says it is not clear which substances or compounds in the vaping products are leading to harm. However, the report states that all patients have reported a history of vaping, and most patients have reported a history of vaping products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
THC VAPING EFFECT?
The Black Rock Vapor owner feels black-market THC cartridges are to blame.
Illustrating his point, Janczura pointed to the recent bust of a black-market THC vape cartridge operation in Wisconsin. Operated by two brothers, the operation cranked out 3,000 to 5,000 counterfeit THC vape cartridges each day, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report.
“I’m sure their products are all over the place,” Janczura said.
The New York Times reported that investigators have not determined whether there is a connection between the Wisconsin operation and any of the cases of severe lung diseases linked to vaping.
“It seems like most of these cases have been from black-market THC cartridges,” Janczura said. “People are basically buying (them) from drug dealers off the street.
“They’re warning against those, but they just lump it in with all vaping when the nicotine vapes that aren’t oil-based aren’t the ones causing people to be sick.”
To that end, Janczura feels the CDC needs to warn people against buying black-market vape cartridges “instead of just broadly warning against the whole industry.”
Amy Rodgers, sales rep for Cannavative, a Reno-based cannabis producer with a selection of THC cartridges, agrees. She thinks a lot of people are unaware that black-market vape products could be linked to the cases of lung illness.
“We have to make sure that we’re educating people properly,” Rodgers said. “So that they understand if you buy black-market anything, you don’t know what’s going into it. It’s always safest and best to be purchasing from a dispensary where you know the product has been state-tested.”
Vape sales stoppage?
The Nevada Appeal called and asked more than half a dozen gas stations and markets in the Reno-Carson area if they have stopped selling e-cigarette products amid the recent health concerns warned by the CDC and Nevada public health authorities.
Of the eight businesses the Appeal contacted, three said they only sell regular tobacco products, and three others said they sell e-cigarette products with no immediate plans to stop. Two stores hung up on the Appeal.
Carson Central gas station manager Abraham Nader told the Appeal that only 1 percent of its smoking customers purchase e-cigarette products.
CASES IN NEVADA
In Nevada, so far there have been three cases of lung illness linked to vaping, all in Clark County, according to a Sept. 19 release by the Southern Nevada Health District. One of the three individuals was under the age of 18. All three were hospitalized but are now recovering from their illnesses.
“While the cause of this outbreak is still unknown, there is an undeniable association with the use of e-cigarette products,” Dr. Joe Iser, chief health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District, said in a statement. “My continued recommendation is for people not to use any vaping products or e-cigarettes.”
Kari Williams, co-owner of Butts Out Vapor TOO in Carson City, said she is “not happy” that nicotine vaping is under such heavy scrutiny. After 27 years of smoking cigarettes, Williams said she was able to quit six years ago thanks to vaping, which was originally marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes.
“It’s not fair to the industry, especially the ma-and-pa’s (vape shops) like ours,” said Williams, who also co-owns Butts Out Vapor Store in Dayton with her husband. “It’s going to hurt us bad. It will probably make the ma-and-pa’s have to close their doors. It’s so frustrating because this is our livelihood.”
The CDC says it has complete sex and age data on 373 of the 530 cases nationwide. In all, nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of the individuals are male. Two-thirds (67 percent) of the people are between 18 and 34 years old while 17 percent are 35 or older. The rate of individuals under 18 is currently 16 percent.