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What The Vaping Crisis Teaches Businesses About The Importance Of Supply Chains

Possible supply chain disruption could have caused a string of deadly vaping incidents, resulting in consumers being exposed to untested chemicals in products.

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How crucial are supply-chain protections? The answer could be traced to the ongoing vaping crisis.

Aleksandr Kondratov | Getty Images

The current public-health emergency has killed at least a dozen people and has hospitalized hundreds more. Aside from the human cost, the tragedy has also raised questions about many aspects of vaping, including its meteoric rise in popularity with young people, its lack of regulatory oversight, and its profitable existence in illicit markets.

More importantly, for any business in any industry, this crisis also highlights the need for ensuring the integrity of supply chains.

Rising Death Count, Warnings

While there is no consensus on the underlying cause of the fatal lung illnesses seen today, multiple incidents suggest that a possible supply-chain breakdown is responsible for a chemical exposure of contaminated aerosol vapor. And, for many, that exposure may have been fatal.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has mobilized to uncover the cause of the rising number of respiratory distress cases, as have various state and local health agencies. Likewise, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even launched its emergency operations center to more immediately grapple with the problem, one evidenced in at least 46 states and the Virgin Islands.

Although health officials are reviewing the possibility of assorted e-cig contaminants, and are even looking at the vaporizers themselves, one possible source for the problem that has garnered a substantial amount of attention is the use of a particular vitamin E additive. This substance only recently became a supply-chain component for THC vape producers, many which self-mix ingredients for illicit-market sales.

RELATED: Is Your Vape Cartridge Safe? This Is How To Make Sure

Illicit Sales

Vitamin E acetate is not known to be harmful when it is consumed orally, and little is understood about what happens when it is heated and/or inhaled. And, although it’s premature to cite the vitamin E additive as the primary cause in this ongoing health crisis, it is important to note that it already has surfaced as a possible factor in multiple hospitalizations — especially with patients who had purchased e-cig or THC vaping products on the illicit market.

In fact, it is the illicit marketplace of vaping that has also attracted increased scrutiny, and for good reason.

Given its popularity and its lack of transparency in supply-chain dynamics, some observers see illicit sales as making up an incredible three-quarters of the more than $50 billion in U.S. cannabis sales recently recorded, illustrating the challenge in using regulatory oversight to promote product safety.

With no testing constraints, many illicitly sold vape products are often found to contain a range of contaminants, from mercury to pesticides. Even synthetic marijuana has surfaced in some illicit-market products that were not advertised as such.

Unfortunately, the lack of regulatory oversight with vaping also extends to legal markets, too. And it’s troubling to know that at least one vaping death has been linked to a product purchased in a state-licensed retail site in Oregon.

RELATED: I Smoked A Black Market Vape. This Is Why I'll Never Do It Again

Supply Chain Protections

There are many reasons why protecting the supply chain should be a top-of-the-page priority for most companies. These include things like improving logistics, enhancing quality control, and addressing inventory concerns or long-term operations. All of these impact the bottom line of businesses in some way.

Organizations that rely on multiple suppliers can never attain the same levels of product consistency they otherwise would see by maintaining one trusted and well-understood source of materials — or, in the case of vape concentrates, ingredients.

Likewise, a secure supply chain also saves money for companies by promoting liability protections. Whether in responding to lawsuits or health epidemics, it’s imperative that companies know exactly what is in their products. That’s increasingly important today, regardless of industry, and it undoubtedly will be highlighted in the wave of lawsuits sure to come from the unfortunate vaping illnesses and deaths. If untested or consumer-tampered ingredients are part of any vape company’s supply chain, health risks are posed, and they can have an economic consequence.

Finally, it’s also important to recognize that supply-chain protections can have a correlation with consumer trust, as well. And that trust comes with a price tag. It might be one thing when supply-chain breaches lead to product recalls, but it’s entirely different when people are being hospitalized.

As the facts in this current health crisis emerge, the importance of supply chain protections will continue to receive renewed focus. That’s important for any vaping-related business interested in trying to protect its future. Most importantly, it may also save lives.