Vaping THC: Reporters can’t ignore cannabis, mental illness links

By January 5, 2020 Recent News

The true cost of cannabis: Why don’t its illnesses, deaths command media headlines?
USA Today 3 January 2020
Family First Comment: “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 2,561 people have been hospitalized with vaping-related lung illness and 55 have died. That’s one more death and over 50 more hospitalizations from two weeks earlier. CDCs says 80% of hospitalized patients who had complete information about their products reported vaping THC; 13% said they vaped just nicotine.”

I’ve covered things that injure, sicken and kill kids and adults for more than 30 years. From auto safety to medical errors, I’ve competed to break stories on the latest deadly defect or health policy change, most recently on electronic cigarettes.

In late August, I added vaping-related lung illnesses to the beat. Last month, I added marijuana, psychosis and other mental illness. 

It’s a pretty solitary place to be.

We reporters covered the heck out of vaping lung illnesses starting in August. Once it became clear the culprit was THC and not nicotine, however, the news media seemed to lose interest, said former Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb at a breakfast event I attended in early November.

Indeed, a search on the news archive Nexis shows that the number of stories mentioning “vaping” and “lung illness” went from 953 in September to 584 in the first 30 days of October, a nearly 40% drop.

The deaths and injuries from lung illnesses are declining, but they’ve hardly abated and are clearly a sign of a much larger problem with excessive marijuana use among young people. Yet families from the D’Ambrosios in California to the Donats in Connecticut were caught unaware.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 2,561 people have been hospitalized with vaping-related lung illness and 55 have died. That’s one more death and over 50 more hospitalizations from two weeks earlier.

CDC says 80% of hospitalized patients who had complete information about their products reported vaping THC; 13% said they vaped just nicotine.

Most everyone I talk to — even some doctors — say nicotine vaping and Juul, especially, is what’s clogging kids’ lungs. If it is, it hasn’t been identified by any of the many state or federal scientists who have reported on their findings. They have only been able to find vitamin E acetate from THC oil in patients’ lungs.

There has been an outcry to ban flavored electronic cigarettes — or all of them, as in San Francisco — and Congress voted to raise the age for all e-cigarette tobacco products to 21 last month. The Trump administration announced plans Thursday to restrict most flavors of the one-time-use pods in e-cigarettes

But what about when the industry isn’t an easily identified and demonized monolith like Big Tobacco or … Juul? What if the purported problem is something advocates have been trying to get mandated or legalized for years?

That sounds a lot like air bags to me — and the kind of resistance my former colleague Jim Healey and I faced in 1996 when we wrote that air bags had killed about two dozen kids and that regulators weren’t telling the public. Our stories led to the warning labels and smart air bags now in every new car.

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