Operation Vapor Lock Seizes 44 Websites for Illicit THC Vape Sales in US

The FDA, DEA and CDC are all investigating illicit THC vape cartridge sales under the name Operation Vapor Lock due to causing them all kinds of problematic lung-disease conditions.

  • None of the products sold by these websites appear to be linked to the vaping-related lung injuries.
  • The FDA labs had more than 1,200 samples sent-in from over 30 states to test and analyze from users, state officials and hospitals.
  • Both FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. and Acting DEA Administrator Uttam Dhillon made statements on the developments of the investigation in a press release.

The Food and Drug Administration is still working on regulations that effectively handle the cannabis industry, but illicit vaping devices and cartridges continue to be a problem. A total of 44 websites recently were seized by both the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration, due to their sale of illicit vaping cartridges that offered THC.

This seizure is an effort of Operation Vapor Lock, as authorities continually investigate the vaping products on the market that are related to the lung injuries this year. This of course is coming on the heels of the FDA cracking down on illegal CBD product sales just a few weeks prior to initiating Operation Vapor Lock as well as issuing warnings to brands for unapproved CBD product claims.

According to the CDC, who recently shared the updated stats of illness and even fatalities from these illicit marijuana vaping products, there are now over 2,500 hospitalizations and 54 deaths reported so far. These related sicknesses are known as “EVALI”, or e-cigarette/ vaping product use associated lung injury.

The online companies in question were advertising multiple brand names of THC vaping cartridges, including information about THC levels. Reported by patients and families, none of the products seem to be actually linked to the vaping injuries, but both the FDA and DEA decided to seize the website anyway for the advertisements of THC products online, which is presently against federal law.

Lung injuries and deaths have been associated with vaping in recent months, and the FDA has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to handle these cases. The federal and state authorities have seemingly found the main cause of the illnesses, though there may be another cause and there are still many products that are still being investigated. Much of the blame is presently resting on THC vaping products that come from “informal sources,” (containing Vitamin E acetate) as the FDA’s press release states.

FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. stated that there’s a pressing need to figure out the causes of the lung injuries. Hahn continued, stating,

“Moreover, it is a federal crime to advertise the sale of illicit THC vaping cartridges online, and by seizing these websites today, we are able to focus on other online and in-person sources of illegal and potentially dangerous vaping products. As more information comes to light in this complex and evolving investigation, we remain committed to taking further appropriate actions with our federal, state and local partners.”

Acting DEA Administrator Uttam Dhillon remarked,

“In the wake of recent injuries and deaths caused by vaping products, these seizures send a message to anyone seeking to capitalize on this dangerous trend. DEA will continue to work in lockstep with FDA and other federal, state, and local partners to use all our authorities to pursue anyone that violates our laws and puts Americans in harm’s way.”

The websites affected were instructing customers to make their purchase through “various financial services.” Some of the websites appeared to be available for processing the payment without actually intending to send the product to consumers. Other websites made it possible to complete the payment, but none of the products promised have been made available.

At this point, the lab with the FDA has already received 1,200+ samples and counting, spread across 31 states. The samples included vape devices, cartridges, and other documentation. The lab is presently in the process of analyzing samples that may expose the true source of these lung injuries. The dreaded effects can be haunting considering difficulty breathing, extreme coughing or fatigue, fever and even diarrhea or vomiting as possible side effects.

Even CDC principal deputy director, Dr. Anne Schuchat, told reporters:

“We are confident that vitamin E acetate is strongly linked to the EVALI outbreak” […] the findings “not mean that there are not other substances in e-cigarettes or vaping products that have or are capable of causing lung injury,” […] “We know that a persistent but small proportion of EVALI cases do not report the use of THC-containing vaping products.”

As the ongoing investigation at the Federal, state and local levels continues, we will be sure to research any new announcements or findings related to their analysis as this is a user-safety issue that must be halted at once as people's lungs and life could be on the line.


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