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College Station man warns of counterfeit vape pens being sold at local convenience stores

Published: Dec. 8, 2020 at 11:02 PM CST
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - A concerned College Station resident is warning consumers that counterfeit vape pens are being sold at local convenience stores.

Fred says he recently quit smoking and picked up vaping as a way to help make sure he stays away from cigarettes for good. On Sunday, he says he went to buy a new vape pen from one of those stores but soon found what he got wasn’t authentic, meaning it wasn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“I went in and got one of these Puff Bars,” Fred said. “I bought it, and when we came back into the car, the guy in the back seat is actually the one that told me how to find out if they’re counterfeits or not.”

Fred says each Puff Bar box has a scratch-off barcode that reveals another code underneath. Entering that code on the company’s website tells you if the product is real or not. Fred says he used that method to find out the vape pen he had just purchased was counterfeit, along with others at two nearby stores.

“After I informed and showed them that they’re counterfeits, they’re still selling it,” Fred said. “They just sold me this one after I just explained to them that it was fake.”

He says he smoked the counterfeit vape pen for about two weeks before finding out it was fake.

“Now this is literally like an epidemic going on, and I had no idea. I did this for two weeks, and now my chest is hurting,” Fred said. “I have a pain right where your esophagus is right there by the heart.”

We took Fred’s concerns to Brazos County health officials who say that even vaping from FDA-approved products can cause serious health problems, although rarely are they immediate. Because vaping is so new, doctors and health officials report not knowing what all the long-term side effects are the same way they do with smoking.

“We know that vaping does do damage to the lungs,” Brazos County Emergency Preparedness and Response administrative assistant Mary Parrish said. “When a person vapes, whether they use vapes containing nicotine or not, they are inhaling chemicals, which do damage to the lungs. Also, the water vapor creates a moist, warm environment that germs love to grow in.”

But Parrish warns that counterfeit vape pens are even more dangerous. Not only is there a risk to the consumer and his or her health, but it’s anyone’s guess as to what the profits from sales could be funding, such as organized crime, Parrish says.

“With any counterfeit item, there is no regulation on how it is made,” Parrish said. “There’s no guarantee that your product was made not only in a safe environment but also with safe chemicals. We see this a lot with bootleg cosmetics as well. A lot of times they’re made overseas in countries that don’t have the same rules and regulations that we do here in America.”

Parrish says doctors will often have a hard time finding out what could be wrong with a patient using counterfeit vaping products simply because they have no idea what could be in those products affecting the person they’re trying to treat.

“We don’t know what goes into these products,” Parrish said. “You could be exposing yourself to highly toxic chemicals like mercury and lead. We do know that even the name-brand vapes can contain formaldehyde, so imagine what they’re doing in other countries to cut corners.”

Parrish says the best thing anyone can do to stop these counterfeits from circulating locally is to quit vaping entirely, which would kill the demand driving the black market in which they are sold.

Fred, however, has another idea.

“We should just ban these things completely,” Fred said. “It’s so hard to tell which is real and which isn’t. They look exactly like the ones that are real. Let’s do something very progressive, something honorable. This would be an honorable thing to ban because they’re fake, so I think this is something the city should really look into.”

If you’re trying to quit, you can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW where you can speak with trained coaches who can help.

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