Massachusetts sees rise in black market vaping post-ban

In June 2020, Massachusetts become the one of the first states to ban the sales of flavored vaping products along with menthol cigarettes.  While the new legislation includes an exemption for use of these products in certain “smoking bars,” the luxury of doing so comes with an astounding 75 percent excise tax. 

Furthermore, for vapers trying to quit smoking, the thought of traveling to a special “smoking bar” to enjoy their favorite vape flavors seems rather counterintuitive. After all, their primary reason for making the switch to vaping is to avoid a tobacco-induced relapse into smoking.  Also, these smoking establishments was rather inconvenient since the whole allure of vaping is its high portability and lower toxicity.  

Massachusetts task force identifies rise in black market vaping

In a hearing last month, representatives of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s Illegal Tobacco Task Force concluded that the newly enacted vape law would lead to “an increase in smuggling activity and black-market sales.”

“I’m concerned that placing an added burden and tasking law enforcement with the enforcement of flavor bans will only stand to create a significant new black market, this includes both cross-state border smuggling and counterfeit tobacco…
“At the onset, you’ll start to see an increase between Massachusetts and New Hampshire in smuggling and illegal importation via the internet of counterfeit flavored cigarettes from countries including China and Paraguay. They will skyrocket almost incredibly instantaneously.  Another underestimated source will be Canadian First Nations reservation cigarette manufacturers, who are rather robust.” 

Related Article:   Judge orders rewrite of Massachusetts vaping ban within 7-days; THC vapes still not addressed

Now that the Massachusetts flavor ban has been in effect for a few weeks, officials from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are already witnessing a significant increase in the trafficking of contraband vapor products.  According to WND News Services, ATF Agent Rich Marianos, who has served at the agency for almost thirty years, is now saying that the I-95 corridor is being inundated with the criminal transportation of the black market vapes.   “The illegal tobacco trade along Interstate 95 on the East Coast is a $10 billion industry that is already working to fill the void created by Massachusetts’ new law,” stated Marianos.

One of the primary reasons that state health officials are so concerned is because black market vapor cartridges are the known cause of the mysterious outbreak of lung injuries that occurred across all 50 states in late 2019.  The mainstream media consistently reported a false narrative that the respiratory disorder was “vaping related” when – in reality – the cartridges were actually infused with THC oils and laced with vitamin E acetate as opposed to conventional vapes using legal liquid nicotine.

The CDC, EVALI, and the Massachusetts flavor ban

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in accordance with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would quickly label the respiratory disorder as EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury).  Because the first letter in the anagram for EVALI stands for “e-cigarette” and not “THC,” vaping advocacy groups and multiple public health experts around the nation immediately began accusing the CDC and the FDA of having a negative bias towards vaping. 

Over 50 people would die from THC-induced EVALI. Legal, nicotine-based vapes were never linked to the over 2,500 cases in any way. In fact, the CDC publicly acknowledged this fact in October 2019 when the agency issued the following statement.

“The latest national and state findings suggest products containing THC, particularly those obtained off the street or from other informal sources (e.g. friends, family members, illicit dealers), are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak.”

Related Article:  Massachusetts Gov caves to ‘vaping-related’ hysteria; bans vape sales for 4-months

Later in February 2020, the CDC issued another, more clarifying statement blaming vitamin E acetate as a contributing component for the onset of the EVALI surge.   Vitamin E acetate is a substance sometimes used by black market suppliers to dilute the THC oils in black market cartridges.  Neither the October nor February press releases claimed that nicotine-based vapor products were associated in any way whatsoever.

“Due to continued declines in new EVALI cases since September 2019, and the identification of vitamin E acetate as a primary cause of EVALI, today’s release is the final biweekly CDC update on the number of hospitalized EVALI cases and deaths nationally. CDC will continue to provide assistance to states, as needed, related to EVALI and will provide future updates as needed at: www.cdc.gov/lunginjury.”

Related Article:  With a whimper not a bang, CDC finally closes the case on ‘vaping related’ EVALI

Even though the sensational coverage of the mainstream media was instrumental in falsely naming the EVALI disorder as being “vaping related,” few news outlets pushed the newly revised story that cannabis-based black market cartridges were truly to blame.  The public outcry over the notion that “vaping kills” has led to several states and metropolitan governments implementing flavor bans or vaping bans like that of Massachusetts. 

Sadly, millions of Americans are still under this wrong impression and may still be engaging in the use of contraband THC cartridges.  For states that have not yet legalized marijuana or for younger people who want to use cannabis products illegally, their best option today in states with flavor bans is to purchase their products through nefarious organizations. 

Was President Trump right all along?

This is precisely why President Trump refused to ban flavored vaping products nationwide in November 2019 when he was under extreme political pressure to do so from lawmakers of both parties.  In a White House meeting with members of vaping advocacy groups, anti-vaping lobbyists, executives from vapor companies, and politicians like White House Advisor Kellyanne Conway and Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Mr. Trump said that black market “poison” was his chief concern for not banning all vapor products outright.

 “The one thing I see though, you watch prohibition, you look at, with the alcohol, you look at cigarettes, if you don’t give it to them, it’s going to come here illegally. Okay.  They’re going to make it.  But instead of Reynolds or Juul or legitimate companies, good companies, making something that’s safe, they’re going to be selling stuff on the street corner that could be horrible.   That’s the one problem I can’t seem to forget.  I’ve seen it.  You just have to look at the history of it. And now, instead of having a flavor that’s at least safe, they’re going to be having a flavor that’s poison.  That’s a big problem.”

If the data collected by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s Illegal Tobacco Task Force is correct and black market activities are already on the rise just one short month after the implementation of the statewide flavor ban, then President Trump may have been right to be so worried.  So should today’s Bay State vapers – THC enthusiasts, nicotine-based users, or otherwise.

Related Article: Still unconvinced of vape bans. Trump says Black Market ‘poison’ is chief concern

(Images courtesy of Shutterstock)

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