By: Daniel Eggleston


E-cigarettes, also called vape pens, were once heralded as a much safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, and a way for smokers to either kick the habit or decrease cancer risks.[1] Because e-cigs are available in a wide array of flavors and devices (some look like pipes, others like cigarettes, and many look like futuristic gadgets), many members of the public grew concerned of the e-cig’s potential appeal to youngsters.[2] The FDA released statistics corroborating this fear: in “2013-2014, 81% of current youth e-cigarette users cited the availability of appealing flavors as the primary reasons for use.”[3], and that “e-cigarettes . . . [w]ere the most commonly used tobacco product among youth” in both 2014 and 2015.[4]

While these statistics might raise eyebrows by themselves, a new use for vape pens is becoming increasingly more widespread.[5] CNN published a story on vape pens being used to as a vehicle to consume illegal drugs like flakka, methamphetamines, heroin, and marijuana.[6] “Water-soluble synthetics are easily converted into liquid concentrate that can go into the device cartridges and be vaped just like nicotine and other legal substances.”[7] This makes it difficult for law enforcement officers to detect if illicit drug use is occurring or whether an e-cig simply contains flavored tobacco oil.[8] Police have a harder time establishing probable cause because of the uncertainty of an e-cig contains nicotine, or something worse.[9] Furthermore, this masked consumption has also resulted in people unknowingly consuming, and in some cases overdosing, on illegal drugs the user unknowingly consumed.[10]

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University received a grant from the Department of Justice to explore “how drug users are increasingly using e-cigarette devices to vape illicit drugs.”[11] Users pass on this knowledge via online drug forums and YouTube tutorials, explaining how meth can be consumed in the workplace, with no one the wiser.[12] What’s more, social media users and celebrity culture are endorsing vape pens as a discreet way to get high in public, in school, or in the workplace.[13]

The research team is testing the efficacy of vape pens in delivering drugs like meth, heroin, marijuana, and others to the user.[14] That vape pens are effective is indisputable given the wide-spread consumption of drugs through the devices – what the researchers are measuring is the dosage levels transmitted in the vapor clouds and analysis of the “commercially available e-liquids to see if the purported contents matched the labels.”[15] The researchers found wide discrepancies between ingredients listed on the labels and what the e-liquids actually contained.[16] Some e-liquids contained drugs that labels specifically claimed they did not contain, prompting the researchers to cite major concern over the lack of regulatory labeling oversight.[17]

The Food and Drug Administration has responded to some of these concerns with increased regulation over the e-cigarette industry.[18] One of these regulations requires “federal approval for most flavored nicotine juices and e-cig devices sold in vape shops.”[19] What remains to be seen, however, is how the FDA responds to the use of e-cigs for their as a vehicle for consuming illicit drugs.




[1] See Sara Ganim & Scott Zamost, Vaping: The latest scourge in drug abuse, CNN, (last visited Sept. 5, 2015) http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/04/us/vaping-abuse/.

[2] See id.

[3] Vaporizers, E-Cigarettes, and other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), Food and Drug Admin. (last visited Feb. 13, 2017) https://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/Labeling/ProductsIngredientsComponents/ucm456610.htm#regulation.

[4] See id.

[5] See supra note 1.

[6] See id.

[7] Id.

[8] See id.

[9] See supra note 5.

[10] See id.

[11] Brian McNeill, Shedding light on a vaping trend: Researchers study the use of e-cigarettes for illicit drugs, Va. Commonwealth Univ. News (last visited Feb. 22, 2017) https://news.vcu.edu/article/Shedding_light_on_a_vaping_trend_Researchers_study_the_use_of.

[12] See id.

[13] See id.

[14] See id.

[15] Supra note 10.

[16] See id.

[17] See id.

[18] See Laurie Tarkan, How new rules could kill the vaping boom, Fortune (last visited Sept. 29, 2015) http://fortune.com/2015/09/29/vaping-fda-rules/.

[19] Id.

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