DRAPER (ABC4 News) – Local vape shop owners called for a statement from BeechTree Diagnostics Lab, the day after Representative Paul Ray cited their test results in his press conference regarding e-cigarettes and vaping.
“At the beginning of the 2019 legislative session, it was being brought to my attention that there were illegal drugs in vaping products,” said Rep. Ray in a Wednesday press conference at the Utah State Capitol.
He said one of those instances involved an individual under Adult Probation and Parole who was clean but tested positive for opioids. He claimed the substance ended up being Kratom in the vape juice the individual was using.
Rep. Ray then said that prompted him to ask an independent lab, BeechTree Diagnostics to purchase 12 different brands of vape juice at stores throughout Salt Lake County for testing. 10 of the substances, he said, came back positive for barbiturates, opioids, PCP, and THC.
“We don’t know how much and to what extent or even if there were false positives. The state would have to step up and spend the money to re-tool these testing machines for the oil cause they normally test water-based things,” he added in the press conference. “We’d have to spend some money, but that’s something I’m willing to do.”
When asked via telephone Thursday why he decided to present the results despite the discrepancies, Rep. Ray told ABC4 News’ Rosie Nguyen, “People are dying. We just think it was important to get this preliminary information out to the public, so they know that potentially what they’re buying isn’t what they’re buying. I think that as a government when we get this information, we don’t sit on it. We at least put it out there.”
The District 13 representative emphasized the main point of the press conference was to address the state administrative rule about FDA-approved open cartridge vape products.
“What the press is missing was the fact that as of August 8th, the only vaping liquid allowed to be sold in the State of Utah is FDA-approved and there are none,” he said during the phone interview. “Vape stores shouldn’t be selling any e-liquids that are not in a closed container or cartridge, because of that rule that gave the FDA until August 2019 to get those approved.”
Tom Hudachko with the Utah Department of Health explained the rule was originally put in place in 2015 with the expectation that the FDA would have a list of approved products by August 2019.
“But that hasn’t happened, so if you put two and two together, there’s technically not any products that these retailers can be selling,” he said. “But the rule allows the state and local health departments the authority to enforce the rule.”
He said the UDOH doesn’t plan on enforcing the rule at this time, but will work with the governor and legislature to decide how they will move forward.
Nonetheless, iVape owner Grant Hiller said Rep. Ray’s decision to use the results from this test caused unwarranted hysteria and concern among e-cigarette and vape users.
“The fact that they were done with a ready-strip tests shows me that there was a different agenda than transparency and public health yesterday at Representative Ray’s press conference,” said Hiller. “At the end of the day, they scared the public and in doing so, they negatively impacted public health and that’s what we are here today to rectify.”
Hiller said vaping is an alternative form that many former smokers turn to because of how much less harmful it is.
“This is about saving 480,000 lives across the country, who use combustible tobacco a year. That’s how many deaths there are,” he said.
Hiller, along with Peak Vape owner Austin Leary approached the lab Thursday morning to ask them to test their vape juice products. Instead, BeechTree Diagnostics owners Mike Murano and Jason Emerson along with their attorney, David Condie invited them inside for a meeting.
ABC4 News’ Rosie Nguyen was allowed inside, but was asked to turn her camera off.
In the meeting, officials with BeechTree Diagnostics acknowledged that the test used was meant for urine samples, not oil-based liquids and results only had a 40 percent accuracy reading.
Murano and Emerson said their lab does not endorse the test results Rep. Ray cited and were unaware that he would be presenting them in his press conference.
The owners told Hiller, Leary, and ABC4 News at the end of the meeting that a formal statement would be released through BeechTree Diagnostics’ Facebook page and e-mail later in the day.
“I was very satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. I think we reached a common ground. We both agreed these tests never should have been released as factual or with any type of factual basis,” said Hiller.
But shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday, Emerson told ABC4 News BeechTree Diagnostics would no longer be issuing a statement.
“At the end of the day, we’ve determined not to respond in a formal way regarding the comments made by Representative Ray Wednesday afternoon. BeechTree has no position either for or against vaping. If you’re concerned about this issue, please contact the representative to share your concerns,” Emerson wrote in a text message.
Hiller issued a statement to ABC4 News following that notification:
“We are extremely disappointed in BeechTree Diagnostics’s decision not to release a public statement on this matter. Over the course of a two-hour meeting, the owners of BeechTree and their legal counsel emphatically stated that their position on the evidentiary value of these e-liquid test results differed from the information Representative Ray detailed in yesterday’s press conference. BeechTree Diagnostics is a urine analysis facility without the ability to test any type of e-liquid whatsoever. We also learned of other serious errors in the testing procedure. Our industry takes these false accusations very seriously and we looking forward to showing the public that Representative Ray’s reckless allegations have no merit.”
Hiller said he and several other local vape shop owners plan on suing Rep. Ray for defamation and slander. Lonnie Bozeman, owner of Saveur Vape (one of the products used in the test) said he will be filing a separate lawsuit.