By Lewis Koski
The emergence of vaping-related illnesses has local, state and federal officials on high alert. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are providing investigative support for the over 2,500 cases to date, and the FDA recently banned many flavored tobacco vaping products. But ultimately state officials have the biggest
responsibility: addressing the cases and mitigating the impact on public health moving forward. As a former state regulator, I know firsthand why it’s critical for government at all levels and the cannabis industry to work together to combat this crisis.
The CDC reports that most patients with e-cigarette- or vaping- associated lung injury (EVALI) - that have appeared in every U.S. state, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories - used vaping products containing THC, with many using products both THC and nicotine. But due to the lack of federal regulation of cannabis, each state is challenged with identifying, monitoring and stopping a public health crisis. Without strong federal regulations and an efficient monitoring system to track data on products, many states are left to scramble, putting lives at stake.
Regulation exists for a reason: it protects public health and safety when the free market alone may not. Look no further than statutes on pollution, airbags, pesticides, and airline safety to see how regulation, when properly enforced, can protect lives while maintaining thriving industries. In new industries such as vaping - where regulation has not existed - some businesses have ignored standard product testing and safety, putting the community at risk. And when criminal enterprises flout the rules and distribute cannabis products from questionable sources, everyone loses.
This is when data becomes critical. Without data on the supply chain, states may respond with knee-jerk public policy in an effort to protect public health. For example, in 2019 several states where adult-use cannabis is legal banned THC vaping products to buy time, better understand the illnesses and develop legislation to control the health crisis. These bans were useful for slowing down the problem, giving public health officials more time to identify the cause and remove bad product from store shelves before more people are harmed.
In the absence of trusted data, state governments are left with the extreme option of banning entire product lines, punishing both responsible and irresponsible businesses. But forcing stores to remove the regulated products that are safer for consumers forces consumers to the illicit vaping market - the primary culprit for the current crisis.
So why don’t regulators just remove the product that is causing everyone to get sick? Consider these two challenges:
1) They need to understand how the vaping products are harming people; and
2) They need to know what vaping products and manufacturers are culpable.
The only way to solve such problems is with better rules for industry: regulation that requires businesses to test and report what’s being put into their products – and what end consumers will be putting into their bodies.
This includes proactive data collection and tools that allow regulators to not only see what’s in a product, but where it came from and where it’s going. The more regulators can see what happens in the supply chain, the better able they are to investigate, enforce, and protect.
This is happening in states that already have such regulation in place; they’re executing stringent testing requirements, data-supported investigations, and targeted product recalls. Governing the entire supply chain safeguards public health and supports compliant businesses that play by the rules and put consumer safety first.
As regulators learn more and remove unsafe products from stores, vaping-related illnesses are steadily subsiding. Many questions remain about the future of the vaping industry, and regulators are still learning how to stop a public health crisis like this – both now and in the future. Effective regulation, monitoring systems, and data are the key to quickly understanding and addressing public health crises like this one, saving time and, ultimately, lives.
Originally published on forbes.com January/10/2020
Link to original article on Forbes