VAN NUYS, Calif. – U.S. health officials announced a breakthrough into the cause of a mysterious outbreak of vaping illnesses, reporting they have a “very strong culprit.”
The same chemical compound was found in fluid taken from the lungs of 29 patients across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The compound is called vitamin E acetate and was previously found in liquid from vaping devices used by many of those who got sick.
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration will pursue raising the age to purchase electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21 in its upcoming plans to combat youth vaping. President Trump is expected to release the final plans for restricting e-cigarettes this week, but provided few other details.
“We have to take care of our kids, most importantly, so we’re going to have an age limit of 21 or so,” said President Trump, speaking outside the White House last Friday.
Spectrum News 1 SoCal has been investigating the vaping health crisis and gained access into the Van Nuys testing facility of CannaSafe, a California-accredited cannabis lab that recently tested black market vapes.
The illicit vaping products look colorful and completely legitimate, but officials advise looking beyond the packaging. All of the illicit samples failed Cannasafe's lab tests that examined the products for heavy metals, pesticides, and Vitamin E acetate.
“It was surprising," said Cannasafe's President Aaron Riley. "The chances of you finding one that was safe was zero percent."
Cannasafe released a report showing that of the 12 black market vapes tested, one contained lead, 75 percent contained Vitamin E acetate and all of them had unsafe levels of pesticides. Cannasafe compared those findings to more than 100 samples of legitimate and licensed cannabis brands. None of the licensed products contained Vitamin E acetate and 100 percent of them passed pesticide and heavy metal testing.
“You can be putting yourself at a significant health risk by consuming these illegal products," Riley said, adding that the illicit vapes are so easy to come by in L.A., a local cannabis delivery company delivered some directly to the lab.
“The scariest ones are the ones that look identical to the legitimate brand," Riley said.
Counterfeits have become a major problem for licensed cannabis company Stiiizy. Stiiizy's vapes passed all of Cannasafe’s testing and are only sold at legal shops. Their counterfeits failed the same tests.
“We’ve gotten reports of hundreds of stores claiming to sell Stiiizy products that were illegal," said Daniel Yi, Chief Communication Officer with Stiiiizy.
One of the easiest ways to spot a fake vape is by looking at the packaging: the real product will have a verified testing label. The real products also cost more.
“If somebody goes and buys a Louis Vuitton bag at a Nordstrom, they're not going home and trying to figure out if it's a fake bag," Yi said. "I really don't think it's worthwhile for you to save a few bucks and go and buy a product that you don't know where it's coming from."
In order to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters, Stiiizy executives visited China in October to redo their packaging and labels. The company says it's willing to go the extra mile to help keep consumers safe, but adds that the ultimate power sits in the hands of the person buying the products.
“The surest way to make sure you’re getting a tested, regulated product is to shop at a regulated store," Yi said.