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Did The Company Ship Tainted JUUL Pods To Customers?

Sarah Ratliff
Juul Pods like the one this hooded person is using could be tainted

Fired exec says vaping company knowingly shipped one million tainted Juul Pods in order to avoid losing billions.

Amid already mounting concerns over pulmonary damage from vaping, the former senior vice president of JUUL has brought a lawsuit against the vape cartridge manufacturer for allegedly firing him for vocalizing concerns over contaminated and expired pods. Siddarth Breja’s lawsuit claims that JUUL’s former CEO and the management team knew they had shipped one million contaminated mint-flavored nicotine pods for consumer use.

He also says the former CEO made demeaning comments about JUUL consumers. It is alleged the former CEO made comments after staff advised him that another group of pods was nearing expiry. The timing is significant. A year from the manufacturing date is the point when the pods will potentially change flavor or degrade in quality. At this time there is not data on whether the close-to-expiration pods reached retailers or not. There is no expiration or “best used by” date printed on JUUL Pod packaging.

JUUL’s website only states that pods are “meant to be used soon after purchase.”

Juul Pods like the one this young hand is holding could be tainted

Executive Fired After Reporting Tainted JUUL Pods

Mr. Breja’s financial acumen was in question when he recommended a recall of the tainted JUUL pods, which could have cost the company billions of dollars. Mr. Breja is suing, as he believes management retaliated against him by firing him a week after he brought these issues to their attention. Breja esaid that he was concerned for user safety, especially after reports of seizures by 127 consumers. The FDA launched an investigation and found that most of those consumers were youth and young adults.

Previous Concerns About JUUL Pods 

JUUL had previously been in hot water because of marketing practices that included brightly colored packaging aimed at teenagers and young adults. With flavors such as mango, strawberry milk, and watermelon, they were aiming their marketing strategy at a younger crowd—even those not yet old enough to smoke cigarettes.

In September, 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement on youth using e-cigarettes, referring to it as an epidemic. As a result of regular use of nicotine, teens have become addicted. There is a class action lawsuit against JUUL, particularly relating to their flavored pods. When consuming nicotine via JUUL pods, the flavors lead to higher consumption of nicotine. This could have led to the seizures, consumers reported.

Due to both legal and government actions, JUUL and other companies selling flavored tobacco products have had to change their advertising policies. They have also had to stop selling flavored items.

Sign advertising vaping hardware sold in this location

Vaping Illnesses and Deaths

Vaping cartridges may contain nicotine, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or cannabidiol (CBD). The cartridges contain liquid, typically an oil, heated by a pen/battery. This creates an aerosol/vapor that the consumer inhales into their lungs, giving a dose of nicotine, THC, or CBD. One desired outcome of cannabis vaping is to get the most out of the terpenes naturally present in cannabis.

“E-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury” (EVALI) is the name of a condition that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports associates with the use of e-cigarettes and vaping. Symptoms of this condition include both respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, including cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

EVALI Linked to Black Market/Counterfeit THC Vape Cartridges

Last month’s reports show 1,604 cases of EVALI, and thirty-four deaths. These cases occurred within forty-nine states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The CDC has reported its findings, which note that people using THC vapes “should not purchase them off the street or from informal sources (e.g. friends, family members, illicit dealers.)”

The CDC additionally advises that consumers “should not modify or add any substances to e-cigarette, or vaping, products that are not intended by the manufacturer, including products purchased through retail establishments.”

Counterfeit “Dank Vape” cartridges have been linked to EVALI cases in Illinois and Wisconsin. Some additional bootleg cartridges were independently tested and found to contain hydrogen cyanide. A study done by Cannalysis tested several legal THC cartridges for Vitamin E Acetate, which is used to thin out the oil in some cartridges and is believed to be a factor in vaping-related illnesses. The reports did not show Vitamin E Acetate within the cartridges.

Protecting Consumers From Bad Vape

Reputable producers of THC vape cartridges are transparent about their manufacturing and testing processes. In a direct response to the vaping illnesses and deaths, some have made specific announcements on their websites.

There are also several ways for consumers to identify counterfeit pods or cartridges. Packaging details, purchase locations, and serial numbers play a role in identifying genuine items. An app called CannVerify is available that will check the serial number on a cartridge or disposable vape pen package as well as provide specific information about that product. These reports often also include potency and lab results. It is up to the vendor to decide how they would prefer consumers to receive product information.

Juul Pods like the one this young hand is holding could be tainted

What Does This Mean for The Vaping Consumer?

The biggest message from the EVALI crisis is to purchase authentic THC vape cartridges. Buy from a reputable dispensary rather than anywhere else; further, check the ingredients listed on the pen or cartridge package. Companies may add solvents and thinning agents to THC or CBD oils to increase profits. These can be harmful to consumers. Companies like CannaSafe, in California, test legal cannabis products according to state laws. In areas where cannabis is legal only for medicinal use, it is important to be especially careful, as resources are fewer.

As far as JUUL Pods go, time and the courts will verify Breja’s claims of pod contamination. However, in the court of public opinion, JUUL Pods, like so many other vape cartridge products, may already be tainted.

Sarah Ratliff
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