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Law Enforcement Predicts Growing Black Market For Vaping

Just like public health officials, law enforcement agencies are trying to figure out the dangers of illegal vaping products, and who is selling them. (AAFP.org)
Just like public health officials, law enforcement agencies are trying to figure out the dangers of illegal vaping products, and who is selling them. (AAFP.org)
October 28, 2019

NEW HOPE, Minn. — States across the country, including Minnesota, are investigating a rise in vaping-related illnesses and deaths. In some states, public health officials have even declared an emergency. In addition to efforts by the medical community, law enforcement agencies are tracking down operations that sell illegal vaping products.

Tim Fournier is the police chief in New Hope, a Twin Cities suburb. He said there are still a lot of unknowns, but agencies are beginning to connect the dots. Officers from his department recently worked with a task force that netted more than 76,000 vaping cartridges containing THC, a chemical found in marijuana.

"What we busted up were the most popular brand of illegal and underground-produced cartridge, where it doesn't have the regulation attached to manufacturing,” Fournier said.

A similar bust was recently reported by Wisconsin authorities. That operation was described by investigators as one of the biggest illegal vaping rings in the country. Public health officials are trying to differentiate between potential causes of illness from legal vaping products and those illegaly laced with THC.

The Minnesota Department of Health has seen three deaths and more than 80 cases of vaping-related lung injury, and is reviewing 39 others. Fournier said until more information is collected and policymakers enact more regulations, police will continue to track down tips and educate the public about the potential dangers of vaping, particularly off-market products.

"What we can do in the meantime, what we have been doing, is working with our local schools, working with our local youth. The resources are more educational at this point, I think, than an enforcement capacity,” he said.

Fournier added even if more regulations are in place, black markets can still thrive. For example, he said in states where marijuana has been legalized, there's added cost for the product sold in dispensaries - which can make underground markets more attractive to buyers looking for cheaper products. He said a similar scene could develop for vaping products containing dangerous chemicals.

More information from the Minnesota Department of Health is available at health.state.mn.us.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN