The Manitoba Lung Association is warning people to put down their vapes amid reports of a mysterious lung illness that has hospitalized dozens of e-cigarette users in the United States.
Almost 100 possible cases of a severe lung illness associated with vaping have been reported in 14 states over the last two weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some patients, many of them young adults, have been put on ventilation to breathe properly.
Although a spokesperson for Health Canada said it is not aware of any similar incident reports in the country, the agency confirmed it has reached out to its U.S. counterparts to find out more about the illness. Public health officers with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority had not heard of any cases in the city as of Monday.
"Short of going through chart by chart and assuming they told the doctor that they vape, it would be difficult to determine if someone’s lung-related illness would be due to vaping," WRHA spokesman Cory Kolt said in a statement.
Symptoms of the unidentified illness include coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue that worsen over a period of days or weeks. some patients also reported experiencing fever, chest pain, weight loss, nausea and diarrhea.
In each case, patients reported using an e-cigarette in recent months. However, the CDC said more information is still needed to determine what, exactly, is causing it.
"Our lungs are made for clean, fresh air and when we inhale anything else, there could be significant damage and lungs don’t generally repair themselves; the damage is permanent," said Neil Johnston, president and CEO of the Manitoba Lung Association.
E-cigarettes and other vaping devices heat a flavoured liquid — often containing nicotine — into a vapour for inhalation.
Johnston said he has been concerned about the potential health effects associated with the devices since they first appeared in the mid-2000s. And the CDC’s weekend press release, he said, only furthers his concerns about the lack of research into the side-effects of using a vape.
Research that suggests vaping is healthy or unhealthy is "murky" at best, Johnston added.
The federal government formally legalized vaping in May 2018. Health Canada’s stance is that "vaping is less harmful than smoking."
Both Johnston and John McDonald, executive director of the Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Alliance, want the province to further crack down on vaping legislation.
Manitoba updated its laws in October 2017 to prohibit the sale of vaping products to minors and introduce advertising restrictions. But McDonald said it continues to be a "big issue" in the province that is especially concerning since youth users’ brains are still developing and the long-term health effects are largely unknown. He said he would like to see the minimum age reach 21.
Earlier this year, a team of researchers from the University of Waterloo found vaping among Canadian teens was up 74 per cent last year over 2017.
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.