Issues & Insights
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Blame China For Vaping Deaths

Bad timing to call a “trade truce” with China – when we should, in fact, be dropping the hammer.

Need another reason to do just that – besides their flaunting trade laws, stealing our technology, cyberspamming and financial fraud, sponsoring North Korean nukes, running concentration camps for religious minorities, behaving as a global bully and enslaving Third World nations in debt?

How about this? They’re poisoning our kids – again.

Until recently, a massively underreported aspect of the story of the vaping-related illnesses now sweeping the nation – which has panicked officials across America overreacting with various levels of bans – is that they are being delivered directly to your kids from your friendly neighborhood Chinese counterfeiters. (Mandatory disclosure: this author provides PR support for a vapor manufacturer.)

Check out this account from, which along with its fellow cannabis-focused websites was ahead of the mainstream media in actually doing some journalism on the health scare:

“Type in ‘empty’ and ‘cartridge’ into the e-commerce site Alibaba, and dozens of Chinese manufacturers pop up, offering to make them to order…. More than 95% of North America’s illicit vape pen hardware is manufactured in the Bao’An District of Shenzhen, China, says Peter Hackett, the industry expert who regularly does business there…. Last year those factories were making fidget spinners. This year they’re turning out empty vape cartridges, fake JUUL pods, and counterfeit packaging.

“Workers bundle those cartridges and packages, then shrink-wrap, pallet, and load them onto a cargo container ship. Twenty days later they arrive at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, CA, the busiest container port in the United States.”

 Or to paraphrase the article’s headline: from China’s labs to your kids’ lungs.

The Wall Street Journal is now also weighing in on the flood of counterfeits, pointing out that two-thirds-plus of the kids caught up in the “epidemic” of youth vaping were consuming flavors the manufacturers in question didn’t even make, in bootleg pods traced back to – where else? – the Middle Kingdom.

But wait… there’s more.

Authorities at the state and federal levels have seized on the vaping illnesses to push flavor bans for nicotine vapes. But the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirm that 87% of victims in one review of cases reported using vapor products containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana (or at least purported to contain the substance) – nearly 90% of which were acquired from friends or the black market.

Two-thirds used a single “brand” – “Dank Vapes” – which is a story in and of itself. You see, Dank Vapes (and similar marks) aren’t even counterfeits. Another health-related site, Inverse, reveals that it’s a  “fake brand from which unlicensed sellers can buy empty boxes and fill cartridges with whatever product they please.”

They’re filling those “carts” with substances like vitamin E acetate, a “thickener” that makes the liquid look like quality licensed THC vapes – but which is approved for ingestion or cosmetic uses, not inhalation. Not to mention deadly pesticides – and a range of flavors custom-designed to attract kids. No surprise that among the cases tracked by CDC to date, 15% of victims were under 18 and an additional 21% were 20 or under.

And two guesses where the packaging and thickener for Dank Vapes come from. It only took you one? Congratulations.

The poison vapes continue a long tradition of deadly products originating in China, including seafood, tires, lumber and – back to the kids – toys.

And vapes are far from the only hazards infesting the marketplace from China today. The Journal is barely catching its breath from another investigation that revealed more than 4,000 items on Amazon that “have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators” including at least 2,000 listings for toys and medications that – oops – “lacked warnings about health risks to children.”

The source of “many” of these products: need one even ask at this point? Not to mention that the selfsame story includes a video of how Chinese marketers use fake reviews (of their own and legit products), fake sales and even outright bribes to drive their wares to the top of Amazon listings.

So besides systematically endangering American lives, what else do we know about the essential business of China? This: it’s creating the quintessential surveillance state. Chinese authorities know exactly what their merchants are up to, and are getting a piece of the action.

Rather than cracking down on legit vapor manufacturers while kissing up to the corrupt and immoral Chinese (the Food and Drug Administration says it considers distributing dangerous illicit vapes a “criminal act”), shouldn’t the president flip the narrative – and go after the real problem?

Lower the boom. Threaten to suspend all trade and shipments from China to plug the near-certain sources of the various scourges endangering kids until the communist government cracks down. (PS – they will.) And do it now.

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Bob Maistros

Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at

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