The downward trend in all things vape kicked off in 2019 and hasn’t picked up since. Despite the downturn, there are signs that a product rebound is on the horizon.
The good news? Growth is happening again. The Seattle-based data analytic firm Headset reported that in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, vape sales jumped 20% from 2019-2020. In 2019, vape sales topped $1.5 billion, and in 2020, those figures were $1.8 billion.
The bad news? It will take some time to get back market share. Overall market share of vape products dipped, from 22.3% of cannabis product sales in 2019 to 19.1% in 2020. And right now, vape pen sales are growing at half the rate of overall cannabis sales. Manufacturers are working to rebuild consumer confidence. Let’s look at what has happened since the vape crisis, including the industry’s sales and safety efforts.
The vape health crisis began in the summer of 2019, with consumers reporting ill health effects. Emergency room visits related to e-cigarette and vaping products increased dramatically in August 2019. Cases peaked in September 2019. During that time, doctors identified the new lung disease. It was explicitly linked to vaping. The CDC gave it the name EVALI, an acronym for e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury.
Since then, according to the CDC, a total of 2,807 cases requiring hospitalization or resulting in death were reported from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands). The good news is that cases have gradually declined since September 2019. Vitamin E acetate, an additive in some THC-containing e-cigarettes or vape products, was identified as the primary culprit in the health scare. Many blamed the illicit market for the health problems associated with EVALI.
Possible reasons for the decline in EVALI cases may be associated with increased public awareness of the risk associated with consumption via e-cigarettes or vape cartridges. Or, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers who are stuck at home and using alternative consumption methods (smoking flower, for example) might not need a product that offers the discretion that vape pens provide.
Safety is paramount. The industry is listening. Included in the Brightfield Group’s 2020 Cannabis Innovations Report, the Chicago-based data research firm acknowledged that the vape industry is making an effort to increase transparency and promote safety in the sector.
Colorado has been a cannabis trend-setter for years now. Did you know that Colorado cannabis regulators make companies that use non-cannabis terpenes include a certificate of analysis when using an additive? It’s true. The state uses that process to ensure vape companies use additives per the FDA-approved inactive ingredient list. That kind of transparency will build trust.
Responding to consumer caution, vape companies are developing new products with fewer additives — and if additives are included, they are turning to cannabis-derived ones, not artificial ingredients. The EVALI scare from 2019 pushed companies to perform tests on components, pulling data on thermal degradation when the vape hits a specific temperature, for example. The EVALI scare ended up encouraging companies to stay away from additives like propylene glycol, vitamin E, MCT oil, and polyethylene glycol and prioritize quality and safety.
Sales are slowly rebounding as the industry responds to consumer demands for quality, safety, and control. Customer education is vital, but don’t expect or assume your local budtender knows all product features intimately.
Many consumers expect the budtender to know the ins and outs of all their stores’ product offerings. And if they don’t, then the consumer may pay the price. It pays to do your research. While it’s nice to try something new, based on a recommendation, the last thing you want to do is select and consume something with lasting adverse effects. Don’t expect every budtender to know everything.
That said, companies are making an effort to educate consumers, and others are upping the ante on the information included on labels. When consumers are reading product labels and researching ingredients, they’re also looking a little closer at the materials used in vape hardware.
The industry is responding, using materials like glass and ceramic for carts instead of metal. For example, some vape enthusiasts are using dry flower vaporizers. These are an alternative consumption method and eliminates the need for liquid-based products.