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Former E-Cig Exec: Here's How We Fix the Cannabis Vaping Crisis

Former E-Cig Exec: Here's How We Fix the Cannabis Vaping Crisis

By Ramon Alarcon, Founder, and CEO, Witi.

“Going Backward Isn’t a Long-Term Solution. The Industry Must Propel Next-Gen Vape Tech Now.”

The vaping illness crisis continues to make headlines, putting the entire vaping product sector—including nicotine e-cigarettes, as well as THC and CBD vapes—under suspicion.

Multiple states have banned flavored e-cigarettes; Massachusetts went even further, declaring a four-month ban on sales of all nicotine and cannabinoid vaping products. And others are likely to follow.

But if we’ve learned anything from the last century, it’s that prohibition doesn’t work. It simply fuels the inherent risks associated with illicit markets. Innovation coupled with smart regulatory action are the tools we need to address this crisis and protect public safety.

As someone who has been working in vaporizer product development since 2009, I know that panic-induced regulations undermine product safety.

Despite the recent tragic vaping-related illnesses and deaths, the scientific evidence is clear: When done right, vaping remains safer than smoking, and it is an essential tool for harm reduction.

Vaporization: It’s Not Just Safer, It’s Better

Let’s start with the facts: We know that vaporizing is safer than smoking because heat is safer than combustion. Anytime you ignite plant material—tobacco, cannabis, even burning tree leaves in autumn—the smoke released contains a multitude of known carcinogens.

In the United Kingdom, an independent evidence review published by Public Health England (PHE) in 2014 found that vaping was 95% less harmful than smoking. Several U.K. hospitals actually allow vape stores on their premises: It’s considered harm reduction. Indeed, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that vaping is twice as effective in helping smokers quit than other types of nicotine-replacement options.

Vaping cannabis products is also an important option for medical patients who rely on the rapid onset of therapeutic effects—such as people utilizing cannabis for pain management. Many such patients, particularly the elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems, cannot risk the potentially adverse respiratory effects of combustion.

Based on this evidence, we need to begin questioning the justifications behind vaping bans and prohibitive regulations.

The rapid growth of the cannabis vaping sector points to an obvious shift in consumer preference for vaping products over combustables. This is a positive public health trend that we would be wise to encourage.

Experts have expressed concern that vaping bans will drive ex-smokers back to cigarettes. And this mindset, fueled by fear-mongering and broadly conflating illicit products with state-licensed ones, has spread into the cannabis space as well. Sales of flower have had a resurgence in recent months.

Innovation Beats Prohibition

To reject vaporization in favor of combustion would be akin to getting rid of cars and going back to the horse and buggy. Cars do carry risks—but rather than banning them, the industry and regulators banded together and innovated to make them much safer.

We used technological advancements to boost safety: seatbelts, airbags, anti-lock brakes, etc. And now we have self-driving vehicle technology on the horizon, and none of that would have been possible without the freedom to innovate.

But in the electronic vaporizing space, it’s been a very different story. The Food and Drug Administration in 2016 enacted regulations that put e-cigs under the umbrella of the premarket tobacco product applications (PMTA), a burdensome and prohibitively expensive hurdle that has had a chilling effect on industry R&D.

The cannabis industry has an opportunity to advance vaporizing technology past the first-generation hardware ubiquitous today. It’s worth noting that most cannabis vaping devices are based on the same basic technology developed by the electronic cigarette industry, which has not changed since 2016.

If we embrace moralistic, prohibitive regulations, we are dooming the cannabis industry to the same fate as the electronic cigarette industry—where innovation is nearly impossible, and consumer misunderstanding of products is widespread.

Don’t Wait, Self-Regulate

While most cases of vaping-related illness have been linked to illicit products, licensed operators cannot wait for regulators to take charge. We must act.

There is still much we don’t know about vaporizing certain ingredients and consumer use of hardware, to name a few variables. And it’s time for operators to begin addressing the unknowns of inhaling heated substances. Implementing risk-continuum analyses for vaporizer devices and inhaled ingredients is one way to close knowledge gaps. Creating next-generation hardware that provides consumer behavior information and actionable data is another key opportunity.

Through better hardware design and formulation control, we can—and must—make vaping safer. Cannabis companies must band together and push for targeted research, so that state-mandated testing is not the only fail safe.

We can’t solve this issue unless our regulatory climate facilitates the aggregation and sharing of data through research and innovation.

Prohibition doesn’t work. Never has. Never will.

Ramon Alarcon is the founder and CEO of Witi (Wellness Insight Technologies, Inc.), a technology company bringing the connected-health revolution to botanical medicines. He previously served as VP of Engineering and Technology at blu, an e-cigarette company. He is a member of a number of industry and standards organizations, including the Cannabis Manufacturing Committee for the National Cannabis Industry Association and the UL Standards Technical Panel for e-cigarette battery safety.

Photo from Pixabay.

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.


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