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The 2019 vaping debacle, 2 years later

Illustration showing various test tubes and beakers with cannabis leaves growing out of them
(Graphic Illustration by Trin Bonner | The Collegian)

In late 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking cases of a frightening new lung disease in the United States. The number of patients grew at an alarming rate, and the restrictions put in place to prevent further spread altered the lives of millions.

I’m referring of course to EVALI — e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury. 68 died and over 2,800 people were hospitalized by Feb. 18, 2020.

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Local, state and federal government acted swiftly to combat the new epidemic as cases peaked in mid-September 2019. Some states went so far as to outright ban e-cigarettes from the market for several weeks or months.

Two years on, it’s important to remember what came shortly after: The CDC quietly made a clarification that a strong majority of these cases were linked to bootleg THC vape cartridges, which had been cut with vitamin E acetate to produce a greater profit margin.

“It peaked at about Sept. 15, 2019, and then as more public awareness resulted in people using less informal vaping electronic devices, the incidents went down,” said Dr. Russell Bowler, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health. “I don’t even think it’s being followed by the CDC anymore.”

Testing is super, super, super important to make sure that what we’re putting on the shelves isn’t going to harm people.” –Alena Rodriguez, managing director of Rm3 labs

What changed in the two-year interim? Colorado in particular quickly banned vitamin E acetate and other illness-linked contaminants from the market and severely ramped up its testing of products.

“There actually are very few fails when you look at it across the board,” said Alena Rodriguez, managing director at Rm3 labs and a member of the state’s marijuana Science & Policy Work Group. “For flower pesticides, in the first six months of 2020, 98.69% of the batches passed testing. Most of these numbers are 87% and above.”

According to the experts, vaping THC at this point is a cause of little concern.

“In terms of toxicants, I would say they’re similar between two types of vaping,” Bowler said. “In (2019) cases, (vaping) was more toxic than tobacco cigarettes, but I think in general, the answer is the opposite. … While I can’t say that vaping is safe, it’s probably safer than tobacco smoking.”

As the cannabis market continues to grow into its new legitimate frame, Colorado officials are using hiccups like this to set an example for how cannabis should be handled at the federal level.

“For me personally, that’s always what I’m looking at because that’s the next natural step in our progression of the industry,” Rodriguez said. “Public safety is super important, and even though testing is a financial burden to some companies … that testing is super, super, super important to make sure that what we’re putting on the shelves isn’t going to harm people. It’s not just immunocompetent adults who are using cannabis, it’s also children, medical patients and grandparents who are using it for different ailments.”

As EVALI fades into the background as a distant memory, we can all grab a pen guilt-free and take comfort in the fact that we’re all a little safer than we were a few years ago.

“I think it’s super awesome how Colorado is one of the only states to my knowledge that has this stakeholder-focused forum and process for us to actually be involved in writing the rules that we follow,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very grateful to be part of the process and be able to help our industry be better, be more legitimate, be good ‘corporate citizens,’ as they say.”

Hayden Hawley can be reached at cannabis@collegian.com or on Twitter @hateonhawley.

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About the Contributors
Hayden Hawley
Hayden Hawley, Cannabis Director
Hayden Hawley is the cannabis director for The Rocky Mountain Collegian. He is a fourth-year journalism major from El Cajon, California. He is also minoring in film studies and history. This is his first year working with The Collegian Hawley hopes that through the cannabis section he can help remove the taboo surrounding the cannabis industry and promote safe and informed cannabis use throughout the Colorado State University campus. He strives to provide honest and unbiased content that reports both on the joys of cannabis as well as its ever-growing social and environmental impacts. In his spare time, Hawley can be found doom-scrolling Twitter or watching A24 movies. His favorite way to enjoy cannabis is a bowl of freshly ground indica in a pipe or joint accompanied by a cold LaCroix and a box of Cheez-Its (not sponsored). Hawley has been interested in writing for his entire life. He enjoys baseball and birdwatching with his girlfriend. Before entering CSU, he was involved in standup and improv comedy, and he now hopes to continue writing for whoever wants to pay him after college ends. His experience of directing a section for The Collegian thus far has been rewarding and gratifying.
Trin Bonner
Trin Bonner, Illustration Director
Trin Bonner is the illustration director for The Collegian newspaper. This will be her third year in this position, and she loves being a part of the creative and amazing design team at The Collegian. As the illustration director, Bonner provides creative insight and ideas that bring the newspaper the best graphics and illustrations possible. She loves working with artists to develop fun and unique illustrations every week for the readers. Bonner is a fourth-year at Colorado State University studying electronic arts. She loves illustrating and comic making and has recently found enjoyment in experimental video, pottery and graphic design. Outside of illustration and electronic art, Bonner spends her free time crocheting and bead making. She is usually working on a blanket or making jewelry when she is not drawing, illustrating or brainstorming.

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