What the Media Gets Wrong About the “Vaping Crisis”

The headlines are not subsiding. In fact, the drumbeat of bad news about vaping disease, illness – and death – is just getting louder and faster. 

The vaping black market is damaging the health of Americans

Every day now, there are news reports detailing the legitimate health concerns of vaping. Sadly, what gets lost in all the media noise is this simple fact: The vast majority of these unfortunate incidents have occurred in states that have not legalized nor regulated cannabis. Black market forces are damaging the health of Americans. 

Before we go further, let’s set the record straight. The ailments are real. The deaths are real. The problem is not going to go away by itself. The media did not create the crisis. It is merely reporting on it, albeit poorly in many cases. 

Veteran journalist David Bienenstock said it best in a recent article in Leafly, the nation’s premier cannabis news organization: 

[W]e have peer-reviewed evidence favoring vaporizers over leaf smoking that dates back 15 years. In 2004, a clinical study of cannabis vapor versus cannabis smoke found that “vaporizers can efficiently deliver cannabinoids while eliminating or drastically reducing other smoke toxins.” This study came within the context of cannabinoid delivery to medical patients, some with compromised immune systems, who are looking for the healthiest possible delivery mode for their condition. 

So no matter what the cause of the current deadly outbreak, it surely isn’t cannabis. To suggest that cannabis—in vapor form or otherwise—has suddenly turned deadly is utter nonsense. It’s also irresponsible. 

Perhaps someone should tell the rest of the media.

What happened? How did decades of evidence disappear? The mainstream media simply did not do its job. Instead of pointing out specific reports – cherry-picking is a bit too easy – let’s examine some of the broader journalistic errors: 

Conflating substances found in vaping products

We all know that e-juice, nicotine, THC and CBD are all different compounds that all can be consumed by vaping. But the fear-mongering headlines do not make the distinction. And when a consumer vapes both nicotine and cannabis, guess which product garners the headline? If you dig down into the details of these cases, you will no doubt find that the main culprits are thinning agents, flavoring agents, vitamin E acetate or some other untested substance. 

Bootlegged vape pens and cartridges are unregulated and unsafe

It is frustrating to see reports of vaping illnesses in Texas or Missouri or some other state that has yet to legalize cannabis. Often times, the fact that the product was purchased illegally from a black marketeer is buried in the story or not mentioned at all. These bootlegged vape pens and cartridges are unregulated – who knows what is inside the cartridge? Who knows how the pen was made?  

If bathtub gin was all of a sudden making hundreds or people sick across the nation, would Jack Daniels or Chateau Ste. Michelle or Coors be banned? Of course not.  

One-sided reporting on the vaping health crisis

For decades, federal agencies have fought legalization. And yet federal officials are often the only source of the story. The mere fact that cannabis is still federally illegal should be an indication to journalists that maybe interviewing a scientist or researcher would balance out a story. Once again, let’s follow the science. And when the answers are difficult to find – as is the case with this current spate of illnesses – make sure to include that in the story. 

We need to tell OUR story – Deliver vape products free of harmful chemicals, additives and heavy metals

Yes, the media had made mistakes. But, once again, pointing the finger at them is not only misguided, it is counterproductive. 

Cannabis industry insiders can rail against the media or politicians or regulators until they are blue in the face and nothing will change. The industry is at a crossroads and we need to grasp this opportunity to change the national dialogue. We can and must do better. We can and must deliver products free of harmful chemicals, additives and heavy metals. We can and must exceed the minimum requirements set by state regulators. We can and must make protecting consumers our primary objective. 

It is incumbent upon those in the industry to get out in front of the story before the weight of the headlines seriously damages the future of cannabis legalization.

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