Vaping Crisis Highlights Need for Anti-Counterfeiting Measures in Packaging

Counterfeiting has existed for as long as there have been brands, if not longer, since brands arose as a way to distinguish knockoff goods for the genuine article. Any visitor to the hudongs of Shanghai has seen knockoff luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Coach.

Currently, the US is experiencing a health crisis that seems to be centered on counterfeit vaping cartridges. As of this writing, medical experts have reported over 800 cases of vaping-related respiratory illness, along with eight deaths. While authorities do not yet know the precise cause of these illnesses, evidence points to black-market vape cartridges claiming to contain THC. Vaping-related illnesses seem largely limited to countries with legal cannabis markets, as Japan (the country with the most developed vaping market) and Europe lag far behind the US in vaping-related illnesses. This crisis highlights the need for secure anti-counterfeiting measures in the cannabis packaging industry, from both a public-health standpoint as well as an intellectual-property standpoint.

All of this points to the need for better anti-counterfeiting measures. Fortunately, digital inkjet printers can be an important tool in cradle-to-grave traceability, and already the cannabis-packaging industry has begun to respond. One company has introduced smartphone app-integrated codes on packaging for consumers to verify that their product is the real deal. The merchant or consumer scans a unique code on the packaging and then connects to the internet to determine whether the product is legitimate. Other anti-counterfeiting measures include security inks similar to what is used on currency, or stamps similar to those found on cigarette and alcohol packaging.

The alcohol analogy is apt, as just in the days during and immediately after Prohibition, consumers indicated with their wallets a willingness to pay extra for the genuine article. Just as consumers of that era wished to avoid going blind from “bathtub gin,” few if any consumers today would willingly risk permanent lung damage or even death from the use of counterfeit vaping products if they had an easy, secure way of verifying authenticity.

With the ability to print serial data such as barcodes and QR codes, industrial inkjet printers can be the answer to the current health AND Intellectual Property crisis represented by counterfeit vape cartridges. The fact that industrial inkjet printers also open up a world of packaging design, with their high throughput, their short-run capabilities, drop-on-demand technology and 720 dpi visual resolution, makes the case all the more compelling, as packaging design for marketing purposes is a crucial product differentiator in the cannabis market.

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