China has been a long time catalyst of consumer product scares in the U.S. in recent years. For example, in 2015 Lumber Liquidators was the latest large U.S. retailer in a string of companies to take heat over the safety of China-imported products. Their laminate flooring contained toxic amount of formaldehyde that did not meet health standards.
In 2007, a series of Chinese-made product scandals and recalls led to warnings and bans across a wide range of industries, from toys and personal care to seafood. Toy maker Mattel issued a recall of one million toys made with possible lead paint dangers.
China has shown little concern for the safety of U.S. consumers.
As the cannabis industry explodes in growth, there are no shortage of entrepreneurs eager to get in on the green rush. Newcomers (and long time brands) are turning to China for cheaply made pipes that can be sold stateside for what U.S. pipe manufacturers are selling their wares for. Outsourcing to China, like in many other industries allows a company to maximize their profit margin and keep costs down.
In the mad dash for cash cannabis accessory companies, head shops who sell pipes and everyone in between has failed to stop and consider the consequences of getting rich off of Chinese-made pipes.
What's Wrong With Chinese Glass
First, it's illegal to even sell Chinese pipes in the U.S.. Companies who sell Chinese pipes have found tricky ways around getting the pipes into the country.
For glass pipes, one of the tricks of the trade is to use drill-outs. According to Ken Kulow of Chameleon Glass (a highly respected leader of U.S. glass blowers), Chinese factories can sink the bowl in the pipe without drilling a hole in the bowl. When the pipes come over, they only have two openings—the carb and the mouth piece.
Chinese factories can feed a string through the pipe and call it a necklace on the import manifest. In other cases, pipes are hidden within other shipments of products. The pipes appear on X-ray searches of imported shipping containers, however, port officials have neither the time nor resources to go after the recipient because they can't justify the cost.
Drill out hole in Chinese glass pipephoto: Chameleon Glass
Later, a hole is drilled out of the bowl. Kulow says drilling the hole weakens the pipe in the bowl where it needs to be strongest. The constant heating and cooling of the bowl can cause expansion and contraction in the glass. There is a probability of glass dust or glass shards inside the pipe. Once inhaled, glass powder enters the lungs and can cause a permanent debilitating disease similar to Mesothelioma, an aggressive condition affecting the membrane of the lung's lining.
glass shards similar to Asbestos in the lungphoto: mesothelioma.com
So when someone smokes out of a Chinese-made pipe for the first time, their friends may hear something like, "Dude, that first pull was rough." That's the sound of your lungs screaming out in pain from glass dust.
Aside from destroying lungs with glass powder, there's another concern. China is famous for their lead-based paints. American glass blowers have advanced the art of glassblowing to include cool colors in integrated into cool patterns in their glass pipes. Chinese replica's of popular U.S.-made styles emulate the look by painting the insides of the pipes with metal oxides rather than using the same technique.
metal oxide paint inside Chinese glass pipes to emulate American stylesphoto: Chameleon Glass
Austin based GRAV Labs founder, Dave Daily recently admitted outsourcing his production to China on a Podcast called Torch Time. GRAV Labs claims to employ glass blowers in Austin, however, Ken at Chameleon points out the majority of products are made in China, and later "Made in China" stickers are removed and sold from Austin as the 'point of origin'.
U.S. Glass Manufacturers Taking the Hit
U.S. glass blowing artists have essentially created the glass pipe market, and continue to drive innovation while facing cheap knock-off competition from sweatshops who go online to find and replicate the most popular styles. Companies like Chameleon and Brothers with Glass have seen their market share tumble directly from being undercut by imported cheap products.
The market for imported glass opened up after "Black Monday" in February 2003. That was the day feds launched Operation Pipe Dream, and conducted a nationwide crackdown on U.S. based glass manufacturers. Black Monday resulted in multiple arrests and convictions, including Tommy Chong, who was incarcerated for a year for his involvement in his family bong-making business. It was one of the dumbest examples of spending money to fight the war on drugs.
photo: Degenerate Art—the art and culture of glass pipes documentary
The cause and effect of Operation Pipe Dream set forth a series of dominoes that ultimately created a vacuum for which cheaply made imported glass could fill the demand. What the feds didn't calculate was the impact of lost wages from lost jobs and lost revenue from tariffs and taxes that aren't collected on pipes entering the country.
Essentially, a majority of the imported glass industry cheaply manufactures dangerous pipes that they can sell for dirt cheap by avoiding paying taxes or tariffs which makes a few select entrepreneurs very rich.
Are Chinese-made pipes bad for your health? The bigger question is about how all Chinese-made products sold in the U.S. are made and how manufacturers can be held accountable.
The surefire way to make sure the pipe you're smoking out of isn't going to have any potential health concerns is buy American.
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