Health officials in Kansas on Tuesday confirmed a 50-year-old woman died from severe respiratory illness related to vaping, making her the sixth fatality nationwide.
“The patient had a history of underlying health issues and was hospitalized with symptoms that progressed rapidly,” according to Kansas State Epidemiologist Dr. Farah Ahmed.
A report released last week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said no evidence of infectious diseases has been identified in the 450 cases of vaping-related lung disease that have been documented. Patients report similar exposures and symptoms according to the CDC, “Therefore lung illnesses are likely associated with a chemical exposure. However, it is too early to pinpoint a single product or substance common to all cases.”
“We're deeply concerned for the people affected. I think the entire industry is. We're watching this very closely. We're trying to identify, just as the regulators and legislators are, exactly what is causing this,” said Nick Kovacevich, CEO of KuschCo Holdings Inc. The company’s shares are publicly traded OTC (KSHB) and it is the parent company of Kush Supply, which makes vaping devices and accessories but not the actual products or liquids people inhale when they vape marijuana or nicotine.
“This is obviously something that’s come on very new, even though people have been vaping cannabis and CBD products for five to six years,” he told Yahoo Finances On the Move.
Impact of black market on vaping
Kush Supply describes itself as “the nation’s largest and most respected premier producer of vaporizer products, packaging, supplies, and accessories.” Sixty-nine percent of its revenue in the third quarter, $28.8 million, was generated by vape-related products.
Kovacevich said the vaping industry is trying to identify what is causing some people who vape to become ill although he suspects the people who have become sick may have purchased products on the black market.
According to the CDC, “Many of the patients, but not all, reported recent use of THC (a chemical found in marijuana) containing products, some reported using both THC and nicotine containing products. A smaller group reported using nicotine only.”
Kovacevich said it’s time for the government to regulate vaping products although marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug and not approved by the federal government for use in the United States. However, it is available in states that have legalized medical and recreational use of marijuana.
“We’ve been calling to make cannabis legal and accessible so that it can be in a regulated system where it’s tested for these type of safety measures to make sure there’s no toxins or pesticides or chemicals that can be harmful,” Kovacevich said.
Kansas State Health Officer Dr. Lee Norman says he’s extremely alarmed. “It’s time to stop vaping. The recent deaths across our country, combined with hundreds of reported lung injury cases continue to intensify,” said Norman.
It’s too early to determine if the growing health crisis will lead to a drop in demand for vaping products, according to Kovacevich. “Our belief is that this is actually going to drive more sales to the legal channels, more sales to our customers that we service because we only service legal, compliant operators, and therefore more sales to us,” he said.
Adam Shapiro is co-anchor of Yahoo Finance On the Move.