Three days after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer banned Michigan stores from selling flavored nicotine, officials on Friday reported the first death in the state allegedly associated with vaping.
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) spokesperson Lynn Sutfin told The Center Square that 75 percent of health cases investigated in the state thus far involve vaping marijuana, mirroring Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, but warned that some of the victims claimed to have strictly vaped nicotine.
Health officials identified the victim only as an adult male for confidentiality reasons. His death brings the national mortality count to 18.
Sutfin said the 30 Michiganders who have reported vaping-related lung injuries since Aug. 30 range from 16 to 67 years old. Most of these individuals required hospitalization with severe respiratory illness.
Sutfin said the MDHHS is working with the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration to determine possible causes, but haven’t yet identified one brand or additive.
“We’re definitely recommending people not to buy [THC cartridges] off the street or modify them with anything because that could be leading to this, but right now we don’t have an answer,” Sutfin said.
CDC officials reported 1,080 cases of lung injury associated with the use of vaping as of Friday, about 75 percent of which involve people who vaped marijuana products in combination with nicotine or alone.
The Defend Michigan Rights Coalition argued in a statement that the majority of these reported illnesses stemmed "from black market or homemade products that contain THC — which is not sold in vape shops in Michigan."
Sutfin encouraged people to refrain from vaping, but for those who choose to continue, to only vape store-bought substances.
“Because this is so much under investigation and there are still so many unknowns, we’re urging people to consider refraining from vaping until we have a specific cause. That’s the best and safest thing you can do; not vape at all.”
State health officials said those who vape should immediately seek medical attention if they develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, fever, nausea and vomiting.
Alex Berezow, vice president of scientific communication for the American Council for Science and Health, told The Center Square that outright bans tend to fail, citing “The War on Drugs” and alcohol prohibition.
Berezow warned banning flavored nicotine may create a black market, which is primarily responsible for the current vaping illnesses and deaths, and will increase these problems.
Berezow cited his colleague Dr. Josh Bloom's article that argues the recent rise in lung injuries results from consumers vaping THC and CBD oil that have different solubility and boiling points than nicotine, which is hydrophilic.
Berezow wrote that THC isn’t water-soluble so it has to be dissolved in oil such as vitamin E acetate, also used in hand lotion, which can trigger lipoid pneumonia if inhaled.
Dr. Charles Dinerstein, medical director of the ACSH, told The Center Square in an email that post-legalization California sales and tax revenue were “siphoned off to criminal elements” because legal marijuana costs more than black-market marijuana.
Dinerstein said black-market THC cartridges could be adulterated because there are no quality or safety guarantees. He compared the cartridges with illicit opioids laced with fentanyl that lowered the drug dealer’s cost but made the drugs “lethally unreliable in their effect.”