In wake of deaths, sales of vaping products drop in California’s marijuana shops

Sales of recreational marijuana vape products have dropped in California in the wake of hundreds of cases nationwide of acute lung disease linked to electronic cigarettes that dispensed THC or both nicotine and THC, according to industry trade publication Marijuana Business Daily.

On Monday, health officials in the Central Valley announced the 7th death, the first in California, connected to vaping. Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency officials said a 40-year-old there died from “complications related to the use of e-cigarettes,” though they did not disclose what products the unidentified person used.

It came on the same day California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring stores that selling vaping devices to post warnings about the health risks, among other measures meant to crack down on the instances of minors vaping.

In California, vape sales represented 32 percent of the market for the week of Aug. 19, but that slipped to 29 percent by the week of Sept. 9 when news had spread of deaths related to illness. Essentially, the trade journal reported, $1 out of every $8 that used go toward vape products is now being spent on other products.

The first death linked to the acute respiratory illness and vaping was reported Aug. 23, but that number has grown to at least six. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this month that the illnesses were not linked to an infectious disease so its experts have blamed a chemical exposure.

The CDC said it is too early to pinpoint a single product or substance common in all the cases.

Robert R. Redfield, the CDC’s director said: “We are committed to finding out what is making people sick. All available information is being carefully analyzed, and these initial findings are helping us narrow the focus of our investigation and get us closer to the answers needed to save lives.”

Yet vaping industry insiders such as Kirk Michaels at GreenHaven Vape and Smoke Shop are blaming street hustlers who are recharging cartridges with their homemade, impure formulas and selling them at a discount. They say the prices can be especially attractive to teen-agers. Government data show that about 20 percent of high school students have reporting using e-cigarettes.

The CDC has opened up its Emergency Operations Center to coordinate its response, and the agency has teamed up with state agencies such as the California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to find answers.

Michaels, 33, said customers are coming into the Sacramento store where he works to ask questions about the illness, though Greenhaven Vape and Smoke does not sell products containing the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol.

Symptoms of the pulmonary illness – described by some health officials as a lipoid pneumonia in which lipids, or fats, are found in the lungs – include shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, nausea, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. The CDC has cautioned it’s too soon to know whether lipids are playing a role in the incidents, the majority of which are happening in young men.

The CDC is recommending that customers not use e-cigarettes until it has more answers. If you do use e-cigarette products, the CDC said, monitor yourself for coughs, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever, and promptly seek medical attention should these symptoms occur.

The data from Marijuana Business Daily show that the vaping health concerns have affected sales in other states where recreational use in legal. In Colorado, vape sales made up 14.5 percent of the market share the week of Sept. 9, compared with 19.2 percent the week of Aug. 19. In Washington, the market share for vape products was 14.6 percent in the most recent period, down from 17.3 percent.

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.