Pueblo marijuana industry responds to nationwide vaping crisis

Black market blamed for 450 injuries, 6 deaths

PUEBLO, Colo. - Pueblo recreational marijuana dispensaries and customers are responding to the current vaping crisis across the country.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 450 people in 33 states have suffered lung illnesses, and six have died, after inhaling tobacco or marijuana-related products after vaping with e-cigarettes or similar devices.

The CDC has recommended that people stop using e-cigarettes until the situation is investigated and more research about what's causing the illnesses is done.

Jim Parco, co-owner of Mesa Organics in Pueblo County, said that none of the deaths and few of the injuries have happened in Colorado because the marijuana industry is so strictly regulated here.

Parco said the current crisis is likely due to victims acquiring products from black market or unregulated sources, where harmful ingredients can be added to the process.

Underage smokers who try to acquire vaping products illegally or other customers who try to save money by purchasing online or from unregulated sources are most likely to be victims, Parco said.

Parco also said unscrupulous suppliers may "cut" the amount of legal substances in vaping products and replace them with other ingredients, such as propylene glycol, to lower costs.

"A common substance that's been found is vitamin E acetate," he said.  "Good for the skin, but not good inside the lungs because it can turn solid.  Another substance found in tainted cartridges is a banned pesticide known as myclobutanil, which converts into hydrogen cyanide when it's heated into a vapor and inhaled."

James Cosby, a regular vaper, said he and other users aren't worried because they don't use black-market products.

"That aspect really needs to be regulated more," he said.  "It's not safe for people to use black-market products or try to make products themselves.  It's like making your own medicine, and we don't allow people to do that."

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