This is a defining moment for vaping. The recent wave of respiratory illnesses linked to vaping is a tragedy. As the CEO of Indose, a cannabis vaping device company, I don’t say this lightly. While I believe fully in the safety of our own products, the crisis continues to accelerate. Each day brings a new story and everyone — from the concerned mother to the person enmeshed in and profiting from the industry — should worry about what could happen next.
There remains a lot we don’t know. Although mounting evidence points towards the use of thickening adulterants like vitamin E acetate, primarily in black-market products, the long list of potential additives mixed into knock-off vaping liquids is impossible to pin down.
We should all be alarmed, but we should not be surprised. Even if the specifics weren’t foreseeable, a public-health crisis stemming from a flood of unregulated products was just a matter of time.
This is a wake up call for those of us who make our living in this emerging industry. Rightfully or not, all of us are being viewed with increased scrutiny. Even if the evidence definitively points to black market products, everyone is watching: What kind of industry will vaping be? What kind of industry will cannabis be?
My vote is that the industry should be built with transparency and integrity. We should rip up and reject the profits-before-people playbook historically wielded by Big Food and Big Tobacco, knowingly inflicted harm on the public for decades. Instead, we should stand for the belief that it is good business to protect the health of our customers.
All who, like me, believe cannabis presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unlock a wide spectrum of health and wellness benefits should take this responsibility seriously.
Instead of attacking studies about lung cancer as “junk science” and spending money to buy faulty science, we should be supporting and relying upon the efforts of independent, peer-reviewed researchers. Instead of blaming victims and spinning a narrative of “personal responsibility” as the cause of harm, we should take the health issues of consumers seriously and support public and private efforts to solve them.
We have an opportunity to do this right. Especially as cannabis remains surrounded by stigma and outdated ideas, we should aspire to be a new breed of businesses committed to the well-being of our users in every way.
The first step is to support all efforts of public authorities to get to the bottom of the cause of these illnesses while shutting down the flood of black market and counterfeit products. It would be a shame if our fight to legalize cannabis merely results in a larger, more complex black market.
Second, our touchstone should be transparency: Better information promotes better decisions. We must provide facts and frameworks for people to develop and inform their own responsible use and feel confident they are using the cleanest, highest-quality products.
We don’t have to wait for government. We should shine sunlight on safe, legitimate products by creating uniform labeling and transparency requirements paired with industry standards for quality and lab testing. Certain best practices are already the law in California, including detailed disclosure of third-party lab tests for potency and purity. Any consumer should be able to read a label and know what they’re getting. Our marketing should be backed by science, not puffery.
This will enable the public to act with knowledge and confidence. We need industry and the public to move faster than regulators. If another similar health crisis arises, better labeling will accelerate a safe resolution as every consumer and public agency will have the information needed to act appropriately.
We don’t know how long the legalization movement will take, but we do know that we shouldn’t subject consumers and an industry in its infancy to a local patchwork of conflicting rules and regulations. As an industry, we should aim to create harmonized standards that can shape and guide lawmakers at the state and federal level.
The cannabis industry, and vaping in particular, must view this as a crisis and an opportunity. The quicker and more aggressively we move to safeguard the health and well-being of users, the better off we will all be.
Ronen is CEO of Indose.