During an Oval Office briefing on Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced that the administration will propose a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will institute the policy within the next couple of months, reports CNN, but the question of what that will mean for brands selling vaporizers filled with CBD or vitamin cartridges (rather than those filled with tobacco and nicotine) remains to be seen.
The administration’s promise comes in response to the more than 450 possible cases of lung illness associated with e-cigarettes in the U.S. alone—six of which have now proved fatal. While medical professionals have yet to establish a definitive cause of the sickness (which manifests in symptoms like shortness of breath, pneumonia, fever, fatigue, and more), one theory posits that the vitamin E infused in vaping liquids could be causing the illness. It’s important to note, however, that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigation has not yet linked every case of illness with a single substance.
Still, since many of the affected patients reported using liquids that contain cannabinoid products like cannabidiol (or CBD, a non-psychoactive element of the cannabis plant) and tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC, the plant’s intoxicating chemical), the question of whether the ban will extend to these types of products as well is a good one. And while we won’t know the answer definitively until the FDA releases the new guidelines promised by Azar, the top executives at three brands that sell products featuring these ingredients tell Well+Good that instituting a ban of this nature on cannabis-based products could lead to vaping practices that are less safe overall.
“Unlike tobacco, cannabis isn’t federally legal, so the vast majority of these tragic vape incidents [involving cannabis products] are due to the black market,” says Maggie Connors, founder of Besito, a vaping company in Los Angeles with products that include both CBD and THC. “And when something’s prohibited, it forces consumers to go to extreme measures to create what they want. So a lot of these instances this summer are what I call an extreme measure of people having to mix cartridges at home.” Indeed, a report released by the senators of New York said that counterfeit and otherwise-impure products have been involved in a large number of cases of the mysterious lung disease.
Should the government move forward with a complete ban on all flavored e-cigarettes—not just those containing tobacco and nicotine—Connors believes that the lack of regulation will prompt even more people to seek unsafe products. In short, the ban could backfire.
Evan Owen, chief managing officer for Clear Cannabis Inc, agrees. Even though the U.S. government has taken the first steps toward regulating the growth of cannabis, the country still has a large gap to contend with when it comes to THC in particular. One that many cannabis-led businesses are hard at work to close. “We use the safest products known to us right now. As in, we use CBD isolate, which is purely isolated CBD from the hemp plant,” says Owen. “You can now see every single piece that goes into any vape product that we make. Whether it’s on the THC side or the CBD side, you can obtain every bit of the ingredients, test results, everything that’s in it.” A ban on these products would re-mystify the contents and (potentially) prompt people to seek them by illegal, unregulated means.
“To me, [these illnesses] just prove that it’s the unregulated market that’s causing these issues—and it’s actually a call for [cannabis] legalization because then there’s a clear set of rules that people have to follow,” says Beryl Solomon, founder of the cannabis shop Poplar. “There are different things we purchase from different places in order for them to be validated.”
If Trump’s ban on flavored e-cigarettes encompasses cannabis products, the result could be a marketplace that’s more hairy—and therefore, more dangerous—for consumers to navigate.