First reported on Cannabistical.Com, and syndicated for publication here, at the Staten Islander News Organization’s paperless hyper-local news site, NBC new has confirmed that all bootleg THC and CBD vapes tested contain myclobutanil, better known by its most popular brand name, Eagle 20. (https://www.nbcnews.com/health/vaping/tests-show-bootleg-marijuana-vapes-tainted-hydrogen-cyanide-n1059356) This significantly boosts the credibility of Cannabistal.com’s anonymous author “Ari Mokir”, as he was the first to report this scandal.
In this article, part of our continuing series on both the flavored vape ban, as well as the rash of lung damage incidents, Staten Islander provides the latest, most comprehensive data, from the sources that matter most. As these two topics now intersect in an unquestionable way, this piece seeks to clarify what’s been muddied in the popular press.
When Eagle 20 is burned, one of the combustion byproducts is hydrogen cyanide, a strongly corrosive substance that also inhibits the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. Feeling lethargic after smoking street weed or vaping bootleg THC products? This could easily explain why. (https://www.nbcnews.com/health/vaping/tests-show-bootleg-marijuana-vapes-tainted-hydrogen-cyanide-n1059356) In fact, Eagle 20 carries its own neurological effects, and may even be addictive for some. The same is true of solvents, including butane; there are literally addicts who “huff”, or sniff industrial solvents just to get high.
Additionally, “street weed” is contaminated with solvents, according to Cannabistical’s report (http://statenislander.org/2019/09/09/cdc-stop-vaping-fake-thc-vapes-common-denominator-in-deadly-pulmonary-condition/), chemical residue from extraction of the precious oil that is then sold separately by the cartels. They’re making double their money, now, selling worthless marijuana devoid of medicinal properties, as well as diluted cannabis oil, infused with low-purity, high-contaminant butane or other cheap solvent residue from extraction, and often, Vitamin E acetate, sneakily employed as a cutting agent.
According to the FDA, vitamin E Acetate has been reported as the main culprit in deaths and lung injury cases that have recently been reported. Note that THC, CBD, and nicotine vapes have all been implicated, however, the common connection between all seems to be that these products were purchased on the black market, or online, and not at legitimate stores.
More than a third of patients suffering from lung injury admitted to vaping THC, however, to date, no hair or unine analysis has been conducted to rule out that the remaining patients falling ill had, in fact, consumed THC, but claimed to only have vaped nicotine. There are a number of reasons this may be so; the mean age of victims is quite young. (Please see Staten Islander New Org’s recent article entitled, “CDC: Stop Vaping! Fake THC Vapes Common Denominator In Deadly Pulmonary Condition” exploring this issue. (http://statenislander.org/2019/09/09/cdc-stop-vaping-fake-thc-vapes-common-denominator-in-deadly-pulmonary-condition/)
Leafly.Com reported on this extensively on September 24th. By all accounts, their investigation into the matter has been the most thorough thus far. In the Leafly piece entitled, “Journey of a tainted vape cartridge: from China’s labs to your lungs,” authors David Downs, Dave Howard, and Bruce Barcott.
According to their report, “Recent reports have estimated that America’s legal, regulated cannabis industry accounts for only 22% of the nation’s $52 billion in cannabis purchases. The other 78% of the THC market remains untested and out of control.” Therefore, there’s a lot of room for tainted vapes in the marketplace, a great deal of space for sickening, even deadly, contaminants to make their way into the lungs of unsuspecting North Americans.
Leafly’s investigation traced the contaminated vapes all the way across the globe, to China, of all places. Those low-quality cartridges, often full of hazardous lead, end up in wholesale markets in Los Angles. While Leafly’s investigators believe that the supply chain is managed by “…companies small and large,” it’s highly unlikely that cartels are not involved in a massive drug distribution ring that has peddled its ersatz wares in every state, if cases of vape-induced illness are any indicator of the reach of the makers of these fake carts.
Also, no legitimate companies sell cannabis oil. Perhaps the cartridges, themselves legal, are sold by companies, however, at some point the operation is so far underground that it’s impossible to determine precisely whom is involved. Certainly, front companies may be involved, but again, this is the domain of cartel business, when it comes to THC vapes.
However, Juul, and other major players in the nicotine cart market, have also had their products copied by fakers. The same is true for legal CBD oil, a product first legalized by President Trump, in the recent Farm Bill of 2018. Both of these products can be bought online, where checks for age are less stringent, and fakers are more likely to peddle their wares.
Before vitamin E acetate was used, counterfeiters often relied on polyethylene glycol, propylene glycol, and glycerin. However, such cutting agents have a far different viscosity, or flow rate, than cannabis oil, and consumers could easily tell they were unauthentic. So, according to Leafly, “Honey Cut,” a vitamin E-based cutting agent, began appearing in Los Angeles cash-only districts back in 2018.
It seems the mystery is solved. However,that brings us to the next issue. Flavored vapes are now history, for all practical purposes. With more data, it seems flavored vapes have zero connection to the recent illnesses, however new York State has moved forward with Governor Cuomo’s emergency legislation, set to take effect shortly, ostensibly to cut teen use of vape products.
Staten Islander interviewed Mr. Moe Elgaly, owner of Staten Island’s largest chain of vape shops, General Vape CBD, over the phone on September 18th. According to Elgaly, these flavored e-juice products comprised over 90% of total sales before the ban. And,more importantly, Elgaly stated emphatically that his stores, and all vape chops, ONLY sold to adults.
How can this be proven true? In Staten Islander’s recent interview with Mr. Elgaly, he stated that sting operations are already being performed, often by agents who, “…look like they’re 30, but are actually 19. Minors are getting their e-cigarettes online, and most of them use Juul.” The average age of his customers are people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. The target audience for the flavored vapes is actually ex-smokers, and certainly not children or adolescents under 21.
Moe Elgaly feels there is little logic to the ban. Online sales of flavored e-juice is still permitted, and so rates of underage vaping will remain unaffected. (And, now we also know that online vapes may be counterfeit, and risk death or debilitating illness in its users.) “Prohibition didn’t work. When they ban something, [kids] only want it more. They’ll always do what’s trending. [Kids] can get anything outside – cocaine or THC…”
Retailers like General Vape CBD follow all FDA regulations with regard to packaging, according to Elgaly. All constituents of the products are listed by the FDA as GRAS, or generally recognized as safe. This also hits US entrepreneurs, “…the vape industry is bringing back manufacturing to the US. All e-cigarette manufacturing is in the US…” Unfortunately, according to the Leafly article, this is not true of the counterfeits.
Moe Elgaly pioneered the sale and manufacture of e-juice in New York City, having started Zenith E-juice back in 2013. “New York City put a ban on opening of new vape shops since August of 2017. No new vape shops could get licenses. So whatever stores have opened before 2017 are still there. There’s a district cap of 60 stores, and there are currently 159 in New York City. Anything already opened was grandfathered in. So, 100 of those would have to go out of business, in order for any new stores to even get licensed. I was OK with the new store ban, because if you limit the source, it’s better. You can pinpoint who was selling to minors.”
As regards the recent vape deaths and lung problems, Mr. Elgaly had this to say, “It’s only happening in the US, whereas vaping is popular around the world. Everyone is getting sick off of THC cartridges. No one is getting sick off of nicotine. And, it’s not happening anywhere else. If anyone was to die from it, from e-cigarettes, if they were poisonous, e-cigarettes and e-juice has been around for fifteen years. An epidemic would not happen 14 years later. That makes no sense.” (In fact, we now know that some have been hurt, or even killed, by FAKE CBD and Juul nicotine, in contrast to the legal, tested, and regulated vapes sold by General Vape and other legal shops.)
As far as motive goes, Elgaly feels it’s naked greed on the part of the state, and not concern for “kids.” “New York city was planning to get money on cigarette taxes but due to shrinking payments from tobacco taxes, they’re about to default on their bonds…New York makes $6 a pack…more than Philip Morris makes per pack.”
Staten Islander: “Did Philip Morris buying 35% of Juul hurt the industry?”
Moe Elgaly : “Juul, in general, hurt the vaping industry image. If Juul owns 75% of the market, and young people use them as well, why not just ban Juul?” Elgaly feels it’s because Juul’s owner is big and powerful, while vape manufacturers and retailers are local, small businesses owned by people within their own communities. Juul claims it doesn’t make flavors. They actually make smaller batches and provide them to small distributors. Their flavors are still there…my store has all the Juul flavors.”
“Surveys and studies showed that high school students use menthol flavor, so what is the point of banning the other flavors, when high school students are not using them? in the U.K., they’re opening vape stores in hospitals, so they obviously believe it is not harmful, and is away to stop smoking cigarettes. How is this a public health epidemic, when 6 people (now 19 confirmed deaths) died, whereas 13,000 people a week die from tobacco smoking each year. Cuomo said on live TV, ‘Vaping is safer than cigarettes, so what?’ Cuomo gets 1.5 million dollars from the tobacco lobby for his campaign. That’s just in this quarter. ”
Elgaly questioned the logic of banning flavors. He continues, “The reason people used tobacco all these years was to get nicotine. This is a different way. Why would you still want to use tobacco flavoring? E-cigarettes are competing with tobacco. in a number of years, there won’t be any tobacco smoking any more. So, all the tobacco companies own their own e-cigarette [brands]. ”
Elgaly feels that this new ban is being carried out without correct factual data. “I don’t think Adder, the public health commissioner., is correct, when he says that vape stores and delis are the ones selling to minors. The council and health department are not going to go against their boss (Cuomo) and this is his big thing. One of the council member asked what a C-store is. How could they not know what [a convenience store] is? This is an executive order, not a law, and that’s why [vape stores] are having meetings to stop this.”
And, stop this they did. So far, at least. As of October 3, 2019, the NY.S. Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department, decided to stay Governor Cuomo’s enforcement of the ban on flavored vapes. (State of New York Supreme Court. Vapor Technology v. Andrew Cuomo Gov., Matter of Banning Flavored Vapes) A panel of judges decided, in the motion brought forth by Vapor Technology et al. that the State of New York is prohibited from enforcing the Governor’s executive order entitled, “Prohibition on the Sale of Electronic Liquids with Characterizing Flavors.”
So, for now, this matter is far from settled. The ongoing issue of vape injuries and deaths has called into focus many peripheral debates, including marijuana prohibition, marijuana “decriminalization,” kids and vaping, and vape shops’ right to lawfully sell flavored vapes to adults over 21 in New York State.
We now know that we should tell our kids to stay away from street weed at all costs, and that illicit weed in decriminalized NYS is loaded with lead, miclobutanil and solvents; illicit counterfeit black market THC vapes are also loaded with miclobutanil, and Vitamin E (which cannot be inhaled without extreme costs on health and wellness), as well as cheap extraction solvents like butane. We also know that counterfeit CBD and nicotine vapes purchased online are yet another game of Russian roulette, as they also have the risk of containing Vitamin E.
What would help us most would be a list of fake THC vape brands, as well as images of packaging, that have maimed and killed. This would be the most sensible harm reduction measure that might be considered. And, smokers, don;’t go back to cigarettes, now or ever! Consider that “legitmate” medications for smoking cessation may not be risk-free. Although F.D.A. approved, some legal smoking cessation drugs are not without their risks. For example, Chantix, one such popular prescription drug, has been linked to 542 suicides and 1,869 attempted suicides.
Kids, stay away from marijuana, THC and CBD vapes, as well as nicotine vapes. You’re not old enough to start destroying yourselves. However, you are old enough to know that your health is the most valuable asset that you have, and that greedy cartels and “businesspeople” will rob that from you without thinking twice.
Instead of banning flavored vapes, the governor should be starting an investigation into how decriminalizing marijuana only encourages people, including kids (as there’s no age check), to buy a product “on the streets” that may be deadly. The Postal Police, F.B.I., as well as D.E.A., should also play a role in this, as there was clearly interstate commerce involved in mushrooming this travesty.
In the name of harm reduction, these issues should be approached from a strictly factual perspective, and perhaps we should reconsider decriminalized cannabis inn New York. Legalize the controlled substance, or keep it illegal; the present state of affairs is no solution, and is only enriching the cartels. “Decrim” is costing lives, and is a complete farce.
Kids need to be educated on this matter, immediately. A workshop should be convened for all students to participate in, from middle school through undergraduate level at local colleges and universities. Underage adolescents and children should never be smoking or vaping, but the risks are higher now than ever. Educators should seek to implement a state-wide program to illuminate these hazards.
According to the American Vaping Association, an estimated 200 stores have closed since August, since first announcing this proposed ban. An entire industry that deals in harm reduction is being destroyed because of an alleged harm reduction measure. While ironic, this is quite troubling. We don’t want adults going back to smoking, nor do we want illicit weed or THC vapes available to kids, ever, but especially now when these illegal products have been transformed into deadly vices.
Simon Berkovich, owner of six vape stores called Caviar Mist, confirmed that his store has been repeatedly checked for underage buyers by undercover agents in recent weeks. Caviar Mist passed the test; yet another vape shop that only sells to adults, following the laws.
The following is a statement by Nathan, owner of Hookahtime Vapes, located on Forest Avenue: