Controversy Surrounding Possible Health Issues of E-Cigarettes Negatively Affecting South Korea’s E-Cigarette Industry

Oct 10, 2019

Smokers in South Korea are beginning to be concerned as some of e-cigarette smokers in the U.S. have developed a lung condition. While South Korean Government is recommending smokers to refrain from using liquid-based e-cigarettes, it is also pressuring the e-cigarette industry in South Korea from every direction through various regulations. However, the e-cigarette industry is resisting South Korean Government’s regulations while stating that it is suffering a lot as information that is not a fact is becoming known as a fact.
Controversies surrounding e-cigarette continue to grow. Biggest issue is that number of patients with serious lung disease and deaths in the U.S. continues to grow.
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) made a statement on the 3rd that number of patients with a lung disease related to e-cigarette from 48 states surpassed 1,000 by the 1st of October. There had been 18 deaths by the 1st. More than a third of patients are under 21 years old and most of deaths occurred from people who are over 50 years old. It is shown that the youngest patient is in 20s while the oldest patient is in 70s. Symptoms are similar to that of pneumonia and it is heard that cough, difficulty with breathing, tiredness, and chest pain also come up with symptoms.
Although FDA (Food and Drug Administration) are investigating 440 e-cigarettes sold in 18 states, it has yet to find an accurate cause. However, FDA is focusing on THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) as it found that 78% of 578 patients who were confirmed previously had used products based on a liquid cartridge with THC and that 37% had used products only with THC.
In South Korea, people are starting to point to the fact that some of American smokers combining THC, which is considered as an illegal drug in South Korea, with e-cigarettes is the main cause to the development of a serious lung disease.
THC has the highest psychoactive effect out of components of marijuana and it causes hallucination by activating parts of a brain excessively. Risks become greater as the level of THC becomes higher.
‘Liquid marijuana cartridge’, which is on the rise amongst chaebol families through smuggling, is a type of an e-cigarette that concentrates THC. It is more convenient to smoke than regular marijuana and it is heard that it almost has no distinctive smell of marijuana. In addition, patients had used liquid marijuana cartridge that is combined with ‘Vitamin E Acetate’, which adjusts the concentration of THC.

Controversy Surrounding Possible Health Issues of E-Cigarettes Negatively Affecting South Korea’s E-Cigarette Industry

CDC stated through a weekly report related to occurrence of lung disease that e-cigarettes without THC will not be a huge issue although it is difficult to investigate for an accurate cause at the moment. It also advised that it is not smart to go back to regular cigarettes due to this recent issue. It found out that although there is an occurrence of a serious lung disease amongst liquid e-cigarette users, most of patients have a history of using e-cigarettes with THC.
Also, there is an analysis that shows that toxic gas called ‘hydrogen cyanide’ was detected in liquid cartridges containing THC. NBC News reported that hydrogen cyanide was detected after analyzing 18 different cartridges containing THC at a marijuana test facility.
Experts explained that these cartridges showed positive reaction to pesticide or myclobutanil although components of pesticides or heavy metals were not directly detected from the cartridges. When pesticides combust, they can cause hydrogen cyanide.
Multinational e-cigarette companies that have expanded their businesses towards South Korea put out strings of explanations as the controversy grows. “Our products are not related to South Korean Government’s recommendation on refraining from e-cigarettes.” said Philip Morris International, JUUL Labs Korea, and JTI Korea through their statements. “Our products do not contain THC or any chemical ingredient extracted from marijuana.”
However, Ministry of Health and Welfare recommended smokers to refrain from using e-cigarettes until there is an actual investigation and results on the cause-and-effect relationship between e-cigarette and serious lung disease.
Due to the measure taken by South Korean Government, small businesses that are selling e-cigarettes are feeling victimized.
“This measure is irresponsible as it applies drug case from the U.S. to our market that is running normally.” said Chairman Kim Do-hwan of Korea E-Cig Industry Association (KECIA). “This incident has never occurred to any of normal e-cigarette in South Korea or anywhere else in the world besides the U.S.”
Because THC is impossible to be imported into South Korea as it is classified as an illegal drug, United Kingdom, Canada, and the U.S. point to THC as the main cause. THC is currently prohibited in South Korea, and any product with THC cannot be imported into South Korea. Because there is a system where harmful materials must be reported, it is impossible for products containing THC to pass through customs.
As the controversy surrounding harmfulness of e-cigarette grows, members of KECIA are holding ‘ME Clean’ movement by taking pictures of their lungs. This movement is their effort to show that e-cigarettes have done no harm to their lungs even after ‘vaping’ for many years since when e-cigarette was first introduced in South Korea.
“Our industry is suffering a lot as some companies have their sales halved in just a month due to a nonconfirmed relationship between e-cigarette and serious lung disease.
Staff Reporter Lee, Joohyeon |

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