In the age of social media, it’s become common practice to spread misinformation in order to further a narrative. Unfortunately, facts and the truth they represent come under intense scrutiny and are sometimes just brushed aside. This is an occurrence we see often with extremely polarizing issues. And this is what leads us to the tug of war we are seeing in the world of vaping. With its tremendous rise in popularity over the past couple of years, there has been an intense focus on both the risks and benefits that come from vaping.
This focus was magnified in 2019 when we were faced with a full-blown vaping epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control (2020), the first vaping-associated lung illnesses were identified in Illinois and Wisconsin in April 2019, with cases peaking in September 2019 and slowly declining thereafter. In all, the CDC reported that there were a total of 2,807 hospitalized cases, including 60 confirmed deaths, as of February 2020.
The alarming number of cases in 2019 not only made headline news, but also left many companies in the vaping industry scrambling to find solutions. One company that is taking initiative and believes it has perfected vaping cartridges to combat all the issues we’ll dive into over the course of this article, is FLO, a Southern California based company that assembles and designs vaping cartridges in the United States.
FLO’s sole purpose is to not only deliver a flawless product, but also give consumers peace of mind that they won’t end up in the hospital with a lung related illness tied directly to vaping. So, what exactly are the issues that FLO, and many other vaping companies, up against? For one, things were so serious that the US government attempted to completely regulate the vaping industry by removing all flavored vaping products before coming to their senses and raising the legal purchasing age for tobacco and vaping products to 21.
While raising the legal smoking age to 21 does make it a tad more difficult for teenagers to get their hands onto smoking products, it still doesn’t accurately depict the issues with these vaping products in the first place. According to the CDC, the median age of individuals who were hospitalized with severe lung illnesses linked to vaping were 24 years old. Furthermore, 79% of hospitalizations and deaths were of persons under 35 years old, with the ages ranging from 13 to 75 years (CDC 2019). What these numbers illustrate is that any age is at risk, so raising the legal age to 21 doesn’t necessarily solve the issues that were stemming from the epidemic.
Raising the legal age is a positive, especially considering what the alternative was, but we need to truly understand what the main culprits of the vaping epidemic were. One issue may stem from Vitamin E acetate being found in vaping products, which is used as an additive or thickening agent. Consider what Vitamin E acetate is used for and what it would be like to actually inhale it. Research has shown that while the chemical is used in supplements and skin creams and does not cause harm when swallowed or used topically, it can impair people’s lung function when inhaled.
According to health officials of the CDC, the chemical turned up in “every sample of lung fluid collected from 29 patients with vaping-related illnesses in 2019” and was being used as an added ingredient in vapes (Thielking, 2019). Finding Vitamin E acetate in every sample taken in 2019 could also explain why the epidemic suddenly sprung up in 2019 and not before, even though vaping has been around for a number of years now.
Even though Vitamin E acetate appears associated with vaping-related illnesses, there still seems to be layers to what brought on the epidemic. According to Kathleen Raven of Yale Medicine, we shouldn’t be so quick to blame this just on Vitamin E acetate because “officials stressed their findings remain inconclusive, and more than one chemical could be contributing to lung damage” (2019). So, if health officials are cautioning the public to not directly blame Vitamin E acetate, then it stands to reason there are other issues at play here.
In a study done by Monique Williams of Scientific Reports, a topography on chemical elements and metals in the aerosol of tank-style e-cigarettes was conducted. The aim of this study was to examine other culprits in vaping leading to lung related illnesses. What the study found was a bevy of heavy metals in these vapors, which were: aluminum, copper, calcium, chromium, iron, lead, magnesium, nickel, silicon, tin, and zinc (Williams, 2019). When the liquid is heated in these e-cigarettes, the metals essentially leach from the heating coil. Ultimately, the more metal parts you find in an e-cigarette, the more the likelihood heavy metals are going to be present.
So, what is to blame for all this? Is it cheap material?
The firestorm of illnesses and the fear of cheap counterfeit products led to a dramatic drop in e-cigarette sales in 2019. Jane Technologies Inc. reported that the market share for vapes was down 15% with medical states, including Oregon, and in states with high levels of cannabis tourism, such as Nevada and Massachusetts, showing the worst declines (CNBC Market Watch, 2019). Furthermore, vapes’ share of sales fell 65% in New Mexico, down 62% in Oregon, down 37% in Massachusetts and 32% in Nevada. As the illness wore on in 2019, so did the decline in numbers across the country.
And to be frank, much of this was expected with the 24-hour news cycle churning out one negative article about vaping after another. With a bullseye now on counterfeit vaping products and the lack of regulation on the market, e-commerce sites began to take notice and remove e-cigarette components in the United States.
Considering all of the issues outlined, what steps have legitimate vaping companies taken to ensure that their products are both safe and reliable? We’ve already outlined the suspension of counterfeit vaping products and the legal aspect of the whole situation, but as research has shown, this does not really move the needle in terms of solving anything.
One step companies have taken is to create vaping cartridges that are free of heavy metals. Companies like Peak Supply Co., O2 Vape, BBTank, and Global Meds Outlet have attempted to create all glass or all ceramic cartridges to combat heavy metal issues. BBTank, for example, has had to take down their all-glass cartridges because they began to emit a foul odor. Global Meds Outlet has touted their numerous testing rounds on their cartridges that have yielded a trace of non metals, but they do use titanium coils.
The issue with titanium is that if it is dry burned then it can reach unsafe levels of toxicity and have a negative effect on lung health (Shakeel, Muhammed et al., 2015). Consequently, products from these companies have been known to have weak airflow, less-than-ideal fragile glass, and cart oil leakage due to users having to take out the cap when they remove the battery and screw on the bottom. This is not to say that these companies are not making strides in the right direction, but the jury is still out on these products over the long run.
The Difference of FLO
All this ultimately circles us back to FLO and their mission to put forth a reliable and trustworthy product. Being able to assemble all their vaping cartridges locally allows their leadership to oversee the entire operation and make sure all regulations and standards are met. With everything that has gone on in 2019 with the vaping epidemic, consumers may have peace of mind knowing they can turn to a company that manufactures locally rather than outsourcing to other countries with less rigorous standards.
To combat the issues that companies have faced with their vaping cartridges, FLO uses extremely heat-resistant organic Plexiglass, which has 0 heavy metals. FLO has also perfected the exact diameter thickness, heating resistance and equipped the cartridges with patented ceramic coil technology, which allows for perfect heating temperatures that will not leave a smell after using and more than adequate air flow.
Another important factor to FLO’s glass cartridges is that they are tamper proof after being assembled. Most class cartridges that can be screwed back out from the bottom have caused leakages when consumers have attempted to unscrew the battery from the cartridge only to unscrew the cap holding the cartridge together. As you can imagine, this can be pretty infuriating to deal with. FLO has made sure that they’ve covered each and every issue the consumer may run into.
Look, ultimately, vaping is not going to land on anyone’s “most healthy” list. The fact of the matter is that there will always be risks. But, trustworthy and diligent companies like FLO do everything in their power to mitigate these risks as much as possible. Adult smokers need alternatives to cigarettes and giving them a safer and more reliable option is still important. FLO is leading the charge into a new era of vaping where counterfeits, heavy metals, and inadequate products are the furthest things from the consumer’s mind.
All FLO products are available for purchase at Catalyst Dispensaries.