Vaping Illnesses Ensnarl Pax Labs, Juul's Former Sister Company

By Kelly Burch 10/16/19

With the government warning all Americans to immediately stop vaping cannabis products, the future of Pax is uncertain. 

a pax vaping pen
ID 153160043 © Shannon Price |

As consumers and health officials around the country try to figure out what, exactly, is harming vape users and leading to a growing number of vape-related deaths, Pax Labs, a former sister company of the vaping giant Juul, is coming under scrutiny. 

Juul and Pax Labs were once under the same company, but they parted ways in 2017, USA Today reported. Since then, Juul has sold nicotine-based vaping products, while Pax Labs has produced vapes and empty cartridges that are primarily used to vape cannabis products. 

Black Market Cannabis Oil

While Pax cartridges are supposed to be filled through approved partner companies—who presumably have an above board safety record—some people refill the cartridges with their own cannabis oil or black-market cannabis products. This is concerning, since the majority of cases of vape-related illness have occurred after a person vaped cannabis. 

Pax has been clear that its products are not directly related to the injuries, according to a September statement from the company.

“No PAX products have been involved in any of these cases,” the statement said. “While the cause is yet to be determined, none of the brand partners who fill and distribute our pods use Vitamin E acetate in PAX formulations, and all pods are subject to rigorous state regulatory compliance and testing. We select our partners with careful diligence.”

A New Leader Steps In

However, in late September Pax’s CEO suddenly left the company. A new leader, Lisa Sergi, came in and established a health advisory board at Pax. 

“Amid growing concern about the risks—and prevalence—of illicit cannabis, our top priority at PAX remains consumer safety,” the company said in a statement released on Sept. 25. 

The company is hoping to salvage its financial future. Less than six months ago, Pax received $420 million in new funding, and the company was valued at $1.7 billion. Now, with the government warning all Americans to immediately stop vaping cannabis products, the future of the company is uncertain. 

"There is great risk for Pax right now. The problem is that we don’t really know yet—the science isn’t there—what is causing all these illnesses,” said University of Michigan’s Marianne Udow-Phillips, who researches health policy.

Stanford University otologist-neurotologist Robert Jackler said it would be difficult for Pax to know for sure that its products haven’t been tied to vape-related illnesses, or even deaths.

“We don’t know whether Pax pods are injuring people,” he said.

Others agree. Last month former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted, “These tragic illnesses are focusing legislative attention on nicotine e-cigs. At what point do they also instigate efforts to reign in dangerous THC and a proliferation of unregulated cannabis vape products, especially national brands of CBD vape hardware?"

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.