Now that the recent, unexplained vaping-associated death toll in the United States has risen to six victims, tensions are running high when it comes to illegal vaping products. Today, such unlicensed THC products have a poster boy: 20-year-old Tyler Huffhines of Wisconsin, whose business law enforcement officials say was producing 3,000 to 5,000 vaping cartridges a day.
His arrest was announced in a Wednesday press conference. Though Huffhines has not been formally charged, various felonies hang over his head: manufacturing and delivering THC and possession with intent to sell among them.
“I’m glad we caught it,” said Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth. “If this one is out there, there’s other ones out there.”
Apparently, officials discovered $300,000 worth of THC oil when they busted Huffhines’ operation, which was located in a Wisconsin condominium.
This is a high profile arrest, largely due to the fact that the nation is currently in the middle of a major vaping health scare that could be caused by unlicensed, untested vaping products. A Kansas woman who died on Tuesday was the sixth US resident to perish after vaping, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that at least 450 people had fallen ill with severe lung disease from the products.
Concern has even reached the White House, though the response has not been targeted at cannabis products specifically. On Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced that his agency had proposed a ban on flavored e-cigarettes.
First Lady Melania Trump, who is not renowned for her participation in public policy, has even weighed in on vaping this week. “We need to do all we can to protect the public from tobacco-related disease and death, and prevent e-cigarettes from becoming an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for a generation of youth,” she tweeted.
In response to the widespread lung damage, the Canadian federal government has issued a warning about vaping any kind of product, nicotine or cannabis, licensed or unlicensed. Amazon has pulled products used for building and packaging vape cartridges.
Time will tell how the current crisis might affect how Huffhines fares in the criminal justice system. His operation was notable for both its alleged size and duration — it had been in operation since January, 2018. Police say Huffhines was selling his carts for $22 a piece, and had 10 people on his staff, many of whom worked on an assembly line, used time cards, and were paid 30 cents per cartridge filled.
Police were unable to say whether the THC oil being used in Huffhines’ company was being cut with other materials or drugs. New York officials have raised alarm that the recent deaths related to vaping were caused by the addition of vitamin E acetate to vaping liquid, a thickening agent that though inoffensive when used in skin care products, has proven to be toxic when inhaled.
Currently, Wisconsin police are testing the oil for possible added substances and investigating other potential players in Huffhines’ operation, a collection of people that “seems to keep growing each day,” according to Beth.