Concerns over illegal sale of vaping products in Colorado

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AURORA, Colo. — As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to investigate widespread cases of vaping-related illnesses, health officials are taking a closer look at the sale and distribution of illegal vaping products on the black market.

In a statement issued by the CDC, officials warned consumers, "Anyone who uses an e-cigarette or vaping product should not buy these products (e.g., e-cigarette or vaping products with THC, other cannabinoids) off the street, and should not modify or add any substances to these products that are not intended by the manufacturer."

Investigators still aren’t sure what’s causing the illnesses and deaths, but the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration suggested vaping devices purchased off the black market could be partially responsible.

“I think this is probably going to be associated with illegal products,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the FDA, said in a recent interview.

For legitimate retail marijuana manufacturers, the issue surrounding illegal sales is frustrating.

"We’re not naive. We know the black market exists everywhere,” said Jim Biviano, CEO and founder of Ascend. "These black market companies are cutting corners for profits and using ingredients that should’ve never been vaporized."

Biviano’s company, Ascend, is headquartered in Aurora, Colorado. Ascend produces premium cannabis oil products, used mostly for vaping.

Ascend’s operators go to great lengths to ensure a safe and reliable product. Each vaping cartridge they create goes through three quality control tests in a state approved laboratory.

"Some manufacturers can take up to 24 hours to produce a vape cartridge. We take two and a half weeks,” Biviano said.

What’s concerning, Biviano added, is how vaping products sold on the black market don’t undergo any sort of regulation or testing.

A person can simply purchase empty cartridges online, fill them up with whatever they want (including harmful chemicals) and then sell them illegally on the streets.

"It's skirting the regulated market to sell consumers and mislead them into what they're purchasing,” Biviano said.

Some of the people reporting vaping-related illnesses admit to purchasing vaping products off the black market because of lower prices or a lack of access to legal supplies.

Legitimate manufacturers like Ascend warn: it’s worth buying from a reputable source given the uncertainty surrounding the products.

Biviano is hoping this situation will serve as an educational experience for consumers.

“[I hope] that it encourages consumers to start reading the label on their cannabis products the same way they read the labels at a grocery store,” he said.

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