Due to the rapid rise of e-cigarette and vaping use and the subsequent rash of lung injury and illness, government agencies began studying brands and products in search of common trends. In doing so, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was able to identify some major players who have been influential in both the increase of vaping users and vaping-related injury and illness.
The biggest player in the game is Juul. The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2015 with a mission to help improve the lives of the one billion smokers across the globe. While their intentions seemed pure—vaping is a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes though it poses its own health and safety risks—many of Juul's products and flavors seemed to be marketed to a younger demographic.
The federal government held Congressional hearings in late 2019 to address this as well as the e-cigarette and vaping epidemic as a whole. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning letter to Juul to cease marketing to adolescents as nearly four million middle school and high school students have become users in recent years.
Juul responded by eliminating the sale of their fruit and other flavored products (for example: mint, creme, cucumber and mango) that appealed to younger users in October 2019. A nationwide ban regarding the sale of flavored e-cigarette and vaping products went into effect on February 6, 2020.
Virginia tobacco, Classic tobacco, and menthol are the only flavors now sold by Juul, though users can still obtain flavored pods via other means including second-hand or black market distributors. Researchers discovered approximately 16,000 unique e-cigarette flavors online as of 2017.
While nicotine-based products like Juul gained traction in recent years, the popularity of marijuana/THC-based products have increased as well, with many being the main culprit behind the rice of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated injury (EVALI).
More than 2,700 vaping users have been hospitalized and 60 people have died as of January 2020, according to the CDC. A common factor in these cases was the presence of Vitamin E acetate, a sticky substance added to THC-based products as a diluent that can stick to lung tissue resulting injury or illness.
Researchers identified a few major brands selling THC products linked to EVALI including Dank Vapes, TKO, Off White, Chronic Carts, Kingpen, and Cookies. While some including the most-popular Dank Vapes seem to be more of a common label used on counterfeit products, legitimate brands like Kingpen weren't appreciative of having their names brought up and linked to injury and illness.
Kingpen manufacturer Loudpack issued a statement in response, while pointing out the difference between black market products claiming to be theirs and legitimate, legal products of theirs sold only at California dispensaries.
The statement reads:
"The Kingpen products in the CDC report are dangerous because they are illegal. They are not regulated or tested—nor are they the award-winning, authentic products manufactured by Loudpack. Legal, regulated, licensed and tested cannabis companies must stop being blamed for the actions by illegal entities, who we work day and night to prevent from putting more patients and consumers in harm’s way."
As government regulators become more stringent with laws around e-cigarettes and vaping, brands are having to pivot their products and marketing or defend their legitimacy among an entire underworld of products that don't abide by the rules and regulations.