Your Vape Pen Might Be Fake, And You Might Have No Idea

Knockoff vapes can stop working suddenly, produce dangerous chemicals instead of vapor, and even explode.

Vaping started having a moment years ago and hasn’t stopped. According to the CDC, in 2016 3.2 percent of US adults were current vape pen users; a recent New Yorker feature quoted a Wells Fargo analyst who said the US vaporizer market would be worth $5.5 billion this year, 25 percent more than 2017. Some use vaporizers as a safer, cleaner, and more discreet alternative to cigarettes, while others have embraced it as the best way to get high—depending on the pen, you insert weed, e-liquid, or dab, and then inhale the vapor. Popular California marijuana delivery app Eaze noted in its 2017 “State of Cannabis” data report that 72 percent of its millennial consumers had purchased one (they have 350,000 consumers total). Vape pens even have their own holiday—July 10, a.k.a. 710, a.k.a. “OIL” upside down.

Given their popularity, it isn’t surprising that vape pens have been the target of aggressive counterfeiting. Weedmaps is a cannabis discovery platform that allows brands to verify stores and products, making it something of a first line of defense against fake cannabis products. “Of the 240,000 products that retailers submitted for verification by a brand on the Weedmaps platform, 6,000 (2.5%) were rejected by the brand, presumably due to being counterfeit,” Weedmaps president Chris Beals wrote to me.

The logic behind counterfeiting pens is the same behind ripping off any highstatus brand: Produce merch at lower cost, then fool people into buying the knockoff. “People aren’t really using strains anymore, they’re using brands and brand names,” Beals told me over the phone. “Really high-end brands are generating more consumer recognition, and those brands are correspondingly demanding higher prices.” And profit margins on vape pens are already high—Quartz reported in 2016 that vape pens have a 57 percent profit margin in the state of Washington.

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