Health officials in the U.S. have confirmed a patient has died after contracting a serious lung disease that may be linked to vaping.
The death in Illinois could be the first in the country linked to electronic cigarettes.
"The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous," Illinois Department of Public Health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a press release.
In the U.S., officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said 193 people in 22 states have contracted the severe respiratory illnesses.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Doctors in the U.S. have said the illness resembles an inhalation injury, with the lungs apparently reacting to a caustic substance. Some U.S. patients have likened onset of the illness to a heart attack and others to the flu. Symptoms have included shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and vomiting.
Vaping even a single e-cigarette can damage a person’s blood vessels, according to a recent small-scale U.S. study published in the journal Radiology.
“We've shown that vaping has a sudden, immediate effect on the body's vascular function," the study’s author, Felix Wehrli, a radiologic science and biophysics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
“While e-cigarette liquid may be relatively harmless, the vaporization process can transform the molecules -- primarily propylene glycol and glycerol -- into toxic substances," he explained, also highlighting the addictive, harmful effects of nicotine.
It’s unclear what is causing the harmful blood vessel damage because Wehrli’s team couldn’t determine if it was due to the aerosol, the artificial flavours or if it’s because of what happens to the e-cigarette chemicals when they’re heated.
HEALTH CANADA’S RESPONSE
Health Canada says it “does not have evidence of clusters of pulmonary disease cases related to vaping in Canada similar to those reported in the United States.”
“We will continue to carefully monitor the situation as more information becomes available and will take action if warranted,” the agency said in a statement.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has contacted her provincial and territorial counterparts so that any similar illnesses potentially linked to vaping are reported federally as quickly as possible.
Between January 2015 and August 2019, Health Canada received reports of 14 adverse health effects related to e-cigarettes.
These included breathing difficulties, elevated blood pressure, a mini stroke and reports of irritation or allergic reactions. Other reports involved issues including mouth burning and dizziness.
Vaping has seen a rapid rise in Canada, particularly among young people.
A study from June revealed a massive 74 per cent jump in youth vaping in Canada from 2017 to 2018.
Take-up of vaping by teens aged 16 to 19 jumped from 8.4 per cent to 14.6 per cent, a 74 per cent increase over the year, according to the study published by the British Medical Journal.
The report was led by Prof. David Hammond of the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
“The vaping market in North America has evolved rapidly over the past two years owing to the growth of JUUL e-cigarettes and similar products,” the authors wrote.
“JUUL uses benzoic acid and nicotine salt technology to deliver higher concentrations of nicotine than conventional e-cigarettes. News reports and social media analyses suggest that both the marketing and discreet product design of JUUL are particularly appealing to young people.”
In Canada in 2017, 4.6 million people aged 15 and older said they had tried e-cigarettes, with around 292,000 smoking them daily, according to the University of Waterloo.
Canada’s Tobacco and Vaping Products Act came into effect in May 2018 allowing adults to legally access vaping products with nicotine, though unregulated vaping products have been available for more than a decade, the government admits.
The Canadian Cancer Society has called for immediate government action to address the “significant and troubling increase” in youth vaping and is urging provinces to increase the minimum age for the sale of tobacco and vaping products to 21.
“This is an epidemic. This will have serious health consequences and we need to act and need leadership to stop what’s happening,” said Dr Erika Penz, professor of respirology at the University of Saskatchewan.
---- With files from CTV National News medical specialist Avis Favaro, Jeremiah Rodriguez and The Associated Press