Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying floated the idea Friday that deaths related to the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, in America in 2019 may have been secret Chinese coronavirus cases caused by a U.S. Army laboratory leak.
The Chinese coronavirus pandemic began in Wuhan, China, late last year. While the Chinese government initially accepted that the origin of the new virus was a wild animal and seafood market in Wuhan, it has since refuted that assertion, instead suggesting that the virus originated in America.
The earliest known case of Chinese coronavirus was documented, according to leaked Communist Party data, on November 17, 2019. No cases of infection are known to have occurred before then.
More recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that “enormous evidence” exists linking the pandemic to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a biological laboratory located near the meat market. While no evidence has surfaced, nor has any American official suggested, that the virus could have been engineered in the laboratory, some have suggested an accident or the illegal sale of laboratory animals may have resulted in the initial human exposure to the pathogen.
A reporter asked Hua to comment on Pompeo’s repeated comments linking the pandemic to the Wuhan Institute of Virology on Friday and she responded with suspicions that American laboratories on the other side of the world from the origin of the virus could be responsible for it. She noted, in particular, a U.S. Army research base at Fort Detrick, Maryland, shut down last year, which the Communist Party has insisted is the source of the virus.
“The safety of biolabs in the US now poses the biggest risk to the US regulatory authority,” Hua claimed.
“There are also reports that soon after the closure [of the Fort Detrick laboratory], ‘E-cigarette disease’ broke out in the surroundings,” Hua claimed. “According to data released by the US CDC in late February, the flu season that begins in the winter of 2019 has infected at least 32 million people in the United States, including 18,000 deaths from flu-related illnesses. CDC Director Michael Redfield has publicly acknowledged that some of the deaths from influenza were actually caused by COVID-19. These are all public records in US media reports available online.”
Hua concluded with a demand to allow an “international inspection” of the Maryland location.
Hua’s claim of an outbreak of “e-cigarette disease” is a reference to what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have dubbed “newly identified lung disease linked to vaping,” or EVALI. Doctors have traced the disease, which impairs lung function, back to the use of vapes. As of February, the latest statistics on the CDC website, the United States has documented 2,807 cases of EVALI and 68 deaths associated with it.
The CDC describes the symptoms of EVALI as “respiratory symptoms, including cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain” as well as fever and, sometimes, gastrointestinal issues. These symptoms are similar to some Chinese coronavirus symptoms, but the CDC noted that studies have found no lung infection in patients with EVALI, meaning no pathogen appears present in their bodies.
American medical authorities also found no incidents of EVALI patients infecting anyone else or of anyone not using e-cigarettes with the disease, suggesting it is not caused by a contagious pathogen. There is no evidence that more recent EVALI patients, those diagnosed after the announcement of a discovery of a new coronavirus, have tested positive for it. The Chinese coronavirus is highly contagious and believed to spread through water droplets in the air.
The distribution of cases of EVALI throughout the United States does not corroborate Hua’s contention that the shutdown of the Fort Detrick laboratory occurred prior to a massive outbreak of EVALI in the region. According to the CDC, Illinois, Texas, New York, and California have documented the highest numbers of cases.
Hua’s remarks on Friday were not the first time that the Chinese government attempted to link vaping illnesses to the Chinese coronavirus. In March, the Global Times, a state propaganda outlet, claimed that “some have connected the cases with novel coronavirus,” without specifying who, exactly, had done so.
One thing the EVALI cases and the pandemic have in common is that both may have originated in China. Prior to the sweeping ban by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on many vaping products in January, China produced about 90 percent of the world’s e-cigarettes, according to the Global Times. Over 80 percent of those available for purchase in the United States and European Union originated in China. As the Global Times explained in 2018:
Its invention is also deeply connected with China. Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik reportedly invented the device in the early 2000s, hoping that it could help him quit smoking. But it soon gave rise to a multi-billion-dollar industry. He is now employed as a consultant by Fontem Ventures, a subsidiary of British multinational tobacco company Imperial Brands, which specializes in vaping technology.
The Times admitted that the industry in China was “highly” unregulated.
Shenzhen, a southern Chinese city considered one of its largest industrial centers, is home to a booming counterfeit vaping product industry. Juul, the largest U.S. vaping company, traced all counterfeit Juul products on the market back to China in a 2019 study. Raids triggered by this research revealed that many factories making these products in China did so under unsafe, unsanitary conditions that may have resulted in contaminated e-cigarette liquids. Many of these products contained THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, which is not considered safe to consume through e-cigarettes.
The state-run Global Times admitted in October that counterfeit products were behind many EVALI cases.
“While Juul Labs Inc dominates the North American market for pod e-cigarettes, many reports of deaths and injuries in the US have been tied to makeshift brands with no identifiable owner,” the newspaper reported. “The most prominent, Dank Vapes, was linked to 24 patients with lung illness, according to a study from the New England Journal of Medicine. The products contained THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.”