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Some Oregon dispensaries take action after vape deaths

With a second Oregon death confirmed from a vaping-related lung injury, the Oregon Health Authority sent out an alert Thursday asking the public to avoid all vape products, and some stores in Oregon and elsewhere have begun removing some vape products from their shelves.

“People should stop vaping immediately,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer. “If you vape, whether it’s cannabis, nicotine or other products, please quit.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put the nation on alert. The CDC has confirmed 530 cases of vaping-associated lung injury in 38 states, with eight confirmed deaths.

Some Oregon marijuana retailers began removing vaping products from their shelves in September and offering returns on previously purchased vape pens amid the nationwide scare tied to electronic cigarettes.

The move came after the agency that regulates Oregon’s cannabis industry told The Associated Press that it will soon begin asking retailers to voluntarily review their vaping offerings and pull those that spark concern.

Breeze Botanicals, which has dispensaries in Ashland and Gold Hill, pulled all vape and electronic cigarette delivery systems off its shelves Thursday evening after the OHA health advisory.

Pharm to Table, which has two dispensaries in the Rogue Valley, pulled a few products with botanical additives, “just to be sure nothing was wrong,” said store employee Liz Salazar. “None had Vitamin E on the label but we pulled them anyway.”

While health officials have not determined what is causing the illnesses and deaths, vitamin E oil, which has been added to some vaping products, is under scrutiny.

Kind Leaf Pendleton, a pot retailer with the largest inventory in Oregon, said it had pulled 68 vaping products from 15 brands amid uncertainty over what is causing the lung-related illnesses.

“What would really hurt is having someone purchase a product and die from vaping,” said Erin Purchase, director of operations at Kind Leaf. “Safety is priority here.”

California-based Berkeley Patients Group, the oldest medical dispensary in the country, said it is contacting all its vendors to ensure products are additive free.

At Fireside Dispensary in Phoenix, which started out as a medical marijuana provider, an employee said the outlet is careful about the products it sells and hasn’t pulled any products from the shelves.

“Everything we carry has no additives,” said the Fireside Dispensary manager David Leland, “and only has cannabinoid-derived terpenes.”

While Oregon marijuana dispensaries have received official health alerts and advisories about e-cigarettes and vaping products, it seems that retail nicotine-only e-cigarette and vape shops have not.

A staff member at Smokin Deals Custom Glass Shop in Medford said no products had yet been pulled from the shelf before referring the call to an administrative office.

“We decided to discontinue and phase out the CBD isolate cartridge line of products because there was a huge lack of consistency in the market,” said Anthony Romano, general manager of Tribal Vape, with stores in Medford and Grants Pass. “Manufacturers were withholding information — we felt that there was a big transparency problem and lack of documentation.”

“We do not yet know the specific cause of these lung injuries,” the CDC reported. “The investigation has not identified any specific e-cigarette or vaping product (devices, liquids, refill pods, and/or cartridges) or substance that is linked to all cases.”

Dr. Richard Leman, chief medical officer for the Oregon Health Authority, offered commentary on the outbreak at last Friday’s OLCC meeting.

“In the most recent data released by CDC there are many, many folks who are vaping cannabis or related products,” Leman explained, “but there are between 10% and 20% who report only vaping nicotine-only products, so we have not been able to nail this down to cannabis only.”

Leman said symptoms of vaping-related illness including chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing, sometimes vomiting, nausea or diarrhea. Health professionals now are more likely to ask the right questions about vaping and e-cigarette use in cases of unexplained pulmonary illness because of health alerts and publicity, he added.

Earlier this month, Steve Marks, OLCC executive director, sent out an alert to all marijuana licensees’ asking the industry to review products for additives and active ingredients, not all of which require OLCC testing. Some manufacturers do not note all ingredients in product labeling and some treat additives as proprietary secrets.

“The response of our licensees’ has been incredible in terms of looking at what they’re doing,” Marks said at a Sept. 19 OLCC meeting. “We asked them [retailers and wholesalers] about their products, methodologies, what’s in [the products], and some are pulling products where the processors and producers are not providing enough information to them.”

Brie Malarkey, co-founder and CEO of Breeze Botanicals, said customers have been asking questions about vaping devices and delivery systems. She says that even with the company’s extensive testing and intake procedures to ensure consumer health, e-cigarettes are new to the market.

“Even if the manufacturer only puts in pure cannabis oil, uses no cutting agents,” Malarkey said, “not much research has been done on the devices themselves or the impact of high heat and pressure on the metal atomizers or the plastic cartridges. Are the devices themselves properly tested? How do they potentially impact our health?”

On Friday, several legislators sent out a press release saying they are considering legislation to ban the sale of vaping and e-cigarette products in Oregon.

Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley and Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-Portland, joined the call to ban the sale of vaping and e-cigarette products following a number of deaths and injuries related to the use of those products in Oregon and across the country.

“We want to thank the Oregon Health Authority for issuing a public health warning and Gov. Kate Brown for taking action on the issue,” Prusak said in a press release issued by House Democrats. “More has to be done though. That is why we look forward to working with our colleague, Rep. Cheri Helt, and any legislator who is interested in taking action on this important issue in the upcoming legislative session.”

Prusak said she and Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, would join Helt in developing legislation to ban the retail and online sale of e-cigarettes and vaping products.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Kaila Moore, store manager at Breeze Botanicals in Gold Hill, works behind the counter on Friday. The store removed vaping products from their shelves as a precaution.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Lizz Fleming, assistant manager, left, and Kaila Moore, store manager, work with costumers on Friday.