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Vaping-related illnesses still rising, though at slower pace

FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 photo, a man using an electronic cigarette exhales in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. Vaping-related illnesses in the U.S. are still rising, though at a slightly slower pace. On Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there have been nearly 1,500 cases and at least 33 deaths in the still mysterious outbreak. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

JEFFERSON CITY — A medical marijuana trade association wants Missouri health officials to issue strict rules on vaping additives, testing and labeling as the number of people in the United States suffering pulmonary illnesses linked to the use vaping products continues to increase.

Andrew Mullins, executive director of the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, asked Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, in a letter Monday to help it "diminish the black market" by issuing rules before legal medical marijuana sales begin next year.

Federal health officials have said many of the roughly 1,600 people with vaping-related illnesses this year were using black-market products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

"With Missouri preparing to award hundreds of medical marijuana facility licenses in the coming months and begin regulated retail sales of lab-tested medical marijuana early next year, it is incumbent that we continue to work together to safeguard public health — and diminish the black market," Mullins said.

Gov. Mike Parson on Oct. 15 directed his public safety, health and education departments to develop a public health awareness campaign to discourage vaping called "Clear the Air" within 30 days.

At the time, Parson called the program a "first step" and said he was awaiting further research and federal guidance.

Williams said recently it was too early to consider new regulations. Neither he nor medical marijuana director Lyndall Fraker immediately responded to a request for comment on the trade association's recommendations.

Federal health officials acknowledged Friday they are still looking at a wide range of products and chemicals that could be causing the U.S. vaping illness outbreak.

"We don't have a short list" of suspect substances, Mitch Zeller of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told reporters Friday. And there may be more than one cause of the illnesses, he said.

Mullins said his group's recommendations include input from the group's "membership, industry experts and national organizations such as the Marijuana Policy Project and the National Cannabis Industry Association."

The recommendations include:

  • Banning vaping products that contain "lipids or lipid-based thinning agents such as medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, polyethylene glycol or Vitamin E acetate."
  • Clearly labeling "active and inactive ingredients in marijuana-infused products, including the liquid for vapor cartridges lipid-based" thickening additives.
  • The association says all products should be "confirmed" lead and heavy-metal free prior to being sold. "The state’s current testing standards allow for trace amounts of lead, mercury, cadmium, inorganic arsenic and total chromium," the letter said.
  • The group wants the state to further restrict the amount of mercury allowed, ensure testing for additional "disallowed adulterants" such as fentanyl, and "enhance and expand microbial screening to test for additional forms of bacteria, yeast and mold."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.