Los Angeles Vape District A Black-Market Gateway

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The vaping industry is under scrutiny as more people fall ill with a mysterious respiratory illness linked to e-cigarette use. Health officials are investigating more than 1,600 cases in 49 states and the District of Columbia, including 34 deaths. In California, more than 135 residents have fallen ill, at least three of whom died, according to the California Department of Public Health. Photo: Heidi de Marco/California Healthline.

CALIFORNIA – A five-block section of downtown Los Angeles that used to be part of the city’s Toy District has become ground zero for the nation’s counterfeit cannabis trade. While a few remaining stores sell fidget spinners and stuffed animals, the majority are hawking vape cartridges, e-juice flavors, vaporizers and other wholesale smoking and vaping supplies — including knockoffs that originated in China.

The vaping industry is under scrutiny as more people fall ill with a mysterious respiratory illness linked to e-cigarette use. Health officials are investigating more than 1,600 cases in 49 states and the District of Columbia, including 34 deaths. In California, more than 135 residents have fallen ill, at least three of whom died, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Although it’s unclear what exactly is causing the illness, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said most of the patients used products containing THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana — particularly from products obtained off the street, from friends or family, or from illicit dealers.

In Los Angeles, some shop owners blame the vaping illnesses on untested products and devices sold to consumers on the black market — even though some are themselves part of that distribution chain.

Shipments of vaping supplies arrive in the alleyways behind dozens of wholesale shops. The seedy district is bounded by Skid Row on one side and Little Tokyo’s skyscrapers on the other. It is considered a black-market gateway to the United States, allowing the production and sale of fake products to flourish. Photo: Heidi de Marco/California Healthline.
Vape shop employees unload a shipment. The Food and Drug Administration advises consumers to avoid black-market cannabis products, which could contain pesticides, heavy metals or other dangerous contaminants. In California, legal products are tested and monitored by the state’s “track-and-trace” system, and consumers can look for package tags to confirm the authenticity of a product.  Vape shop employees unload a shipment. The Food and Drug Administration advises consumers to avoid black-market cannabis products, which could contain pesticides, heavy metals or other dangerous contaminants. In California, legal products are tested and monitored by the state’s “track-and-trace” system, and consumers can look for package tags to confirm the authenticity of a product. Photo: Heidi de Marco/California Healthline.
A conveyor belt moves boxes at a vape warehouse. The California Department of Public Health is urging everyone to quit vaping, “no matter the substance or source,” while the investigations into the illnesses proceed. The CDC also advised people to “consider refraining” from using e-cigarette products, especially those that contain THC. Photo: Heidi de Marco/California Healthline.
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