Health officials ask Canadian vape users to be on alert for symptoms after hundreds hospitalized in U.S.
Two deaths and hundreds of cases of lung disorders in the U.S. believed to be linked to vaping have sparked a second warning from Health Canada on the potential danger of e-cigarettes.
Twenty-one-year-old Ricky D’Ambrosio is one such example -- a young adult struggling in a California hospital with respiratory failure linked to vaping. His family posted his story on social media to warn others.
“When we posted on Facebook, we said, ‘We aren’t sure he’s going to make it or not but we want to make sure -- to spread the awareness and let kids know this is what can happen,’” said his sister, Caitlyn. “The media has spread misinformation that vaping is better for us and it’s not.”
In the U.S. there have been two deaths and some 361 cases of lung disorders -- many of which are similar to teenager Adam Hergenreder, whose strange lung conditions are apparently linked to e-cigarettes.
"My lungs feel like they're being crushed by 20 pounds," Hergenreder said. “I’m 18 years old and my lungs are like a 70-year-old's."
He said that he vaped a lot, and added THC oil.
Authorities still don’t know what the exact cause of the illnesses is, but some parents are launching a war on vaping.
“The pictures are proof,” said Hergenreder’s mother, Polly. “Proof of what vaping does to your lungs.”
One of the focuses in the U.S. investigation into these illnesses is the presence of Vitamin E acetate found in samples of vaping products that contained cannabis, according to a statement put out Thursday by the New York State Department of Health. At least one vape product containing Vitamin E has been linked to each of the 34 victims in N.Y. currently suffering from vaping-related pulmonary illnesses. Vitamin E was not found in e-cigarettes or other vape products containing nicotine.
Vitamin E, a well-known nutritional supplement that is not dangerous when ingested as a vitamin, might be harmful when inhaled, the statement warned, adding that the connection is still being investigated.
There are no cases of vaping-associated lung disease in Canada, but a national team is monitoring for problems. Dr. Nicholas Chadi, a pediatrician at Sainte-Justine hospital who also speaks for the Canadian Paediatrics Society, is part of this team.
“We’re getting a strong message from the U.S that we need to be careful about vaping devices and aerosols that come from those devices,” Chadi said. “We’re still looking for answers, we don’t really know what might be causing these people to get ill, but we do know there are known harms associated with using electronic cigarettes. We’re talking about nicotine, we’re talking marijuana and sometimes in very high concentrations. Those risks are well known.”
Health Canada reissued a statement on Thursday advising Canadians who use vape products to be on the alert for symptoms of illness, and to get medical attention immediately if they feel concerned about their health.
The statement also reminded health care professionals to ask patients about vaping habits if patients are experiencing shortness of breath, hyperventilation, chest pains, or any other symptoms associated with respiratory issues.
“Vaping is not without risk, and the potential long-term effects of vaping remain unknown,” the statement reads. “Non-smokers, people who are pregnant and young people should not vape.”
The difference between e-cigarettes and cigarettes is that e-cigs heat liquid nicotine, instead of burning tobacco. Vaping is the act of inhaling and then exhaling the aerosol produced by heating the liquid nicotine.
Vaping was initially advertised primarily to adult smokers, offering them a safer alternative to cigarettes and claiming it could help them quit smoking.
“We know electronic cigarettes can be an option for older adults who want to quit smoking, but there really are no signs to support that in young people,” Chadi said.
Surveys show vaping rates among among kids and teens are rising exponentially. E-cigarette usage in Canada has increased by 74-75 per cent in one year among young adults and adolescents.
“It’s a newer trend that’s changing the landscape of adolescence substance use,” Chadi said. “We need to be cautious, we need to make sure we’re not in a situation where a new generation of youth are using nicotine when we were really making great progress reducing use of cigarette smoking, so I think that’s really the issue here,”
Companies sweeten the appeal by adding flavoured liquids to vapes, including kid-friendly flavours such as “Froot Loops” and bubble gum, which can introduce young consumers to nicotine for the first time, opening the door to addiction.
That’s why the Canadian Pediatric Society is calling for a ban on flavoured products in Canada, like one announced last week in Michigan.
“Pediatricians are becoming more and more aware that there are hundreds of chemicals found in the aerosols of these products that are harmful,” Chadi said. Those chemicals are “not things we would want in the lungs of young people.”
The Canadian Cancer Society also wants sales of e-cigarettes to be limited to those 21 and older, and are calling for better warnings from Ottawa and provincial governments.
“(Vaping) is attractive to kids, and right now in Canada ... unregulated, we have thousands of flavours and this is unacceptable,” said Rob Cunnigham, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society. “Right now the warnings on vaping products and packaging are inadequate. The governments need to do much better on the messaging to Canadians.”
The American Vaping Association has said that “street vapes … THC or other illegal drugs are responsible for these illnesses, not nicotine vaping products.”
CTV News reached out to the Canadian Vaping Association for comment, but received no answer.