As with prohibitions throughout history, these bans are misguided. They would push consumers to black markets, where vaping products are more dangerous. In fact, despite the disproportionate popularity of nicotine vaporizers, of the 1,782 hospitalized patients who were asked what type of product they were using, 80 percent reported use of vaporizers containing THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. And due to marijuana’s illegality, this figure is likely an underestimate, as patients are likely underreporting THC use to avoid potential prosecution.
The CDC has also found THC in the majority of lung fluid samples it has tested in conjunction with contaminates like vitamin E acetate, coconut oil, and limonene, while acknowledging that THC wouldn’t necessarily remain in the lungs. But this strong relationship is not because THC is more dangerous to vaporize than nicotine, but because THC vapor fluids are typically purchased on the black market.
Vaping first emerged in U.S. markets in 2007 as a safer alternative to cigarettes—it provides nicotine without the harmful tar in burned tobacco. Critics cite the possible adverse effects of nicotine, especially for teens, while harm reduction groups point to potential health benefits of vaping over smoking traditional cigarettes and their carcinogenic tar.
Until recently, the consensus supported smokers switching to e‐cigarettes. Last March, however, reports of lung illnesses and deaths from vaping began to emerge, with 2,506 hospitalizations and 54 deaths reported to the CDC so far this year. In September, the CDC initially advised consumers of all vaping products to stop use immediately. But at the end of October, CDC Director Robert Redfield warned that THC products, particularly those purchased from “informal sources,” seemed to be playing a major role in the lung injury outbreak. Redfield added that users of nicotine e‐cigarettes should not return to smoking conventional cigarettes.
The federal government still outlaws recreational marijuana use in every state, as does state law in 39 of the 50 states. This means that THC vaping products are usually purchased in black markets and subject to their dangers.