E-cigarette health hazards remain unknown

Interior Health says vaping not safe alternative to cigarettes

Smokers seeking out vaping to reduce their nicotine fits may still be risking their long-term health, says tobacco reduction coordinator for Interior Health.

Cheryl Sidenberg says the health authority has concerns about exposure to vaping for adults and young people.

“It’s still a fairly new device and we are still learning a great deal about them,” said Sidenberg.

“It’s still an unregulated device, so whatever it says on the packaging, whether the vape or e-juice has this amount of nicotine or whatever, the bottom line is it’s still unregulated so we don’t know exactly what’s in it.

“Tests done by Health Canada on some (e-juice) products advertised as having no nicotine were actually found to have nicotine content.”

Related: Grieving parents of dead B.C. baseball player, 14, want answers

Vapes, also known as e-cigarettes, are growing in popularity with young people and those trying to quite smoking cigarettes, the belief being they are less harmful.

Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device.

The term is used because e-cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, but rather an aerosol, often mistaken for water vapor, that actually consists of fine particles.

Many of these particles contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and heart disease.

One reported case widely distributed across the Internet involved a Pennsylvania teenage girl working as a restaurant hostess who began using e-cigarettes. Within three weeks of starting, she developed a crippling medical condition called wet lung.

She noticed symptoms like excessive coughing, severe pain in her chest and being short of breath. So she went to a Pittsburgh hospital emergency room and doctors there were baffled by her deteriorating condition.

She was given antibiotics but she went into acute respiratory failure, having to be placed on a ventilator with tubes sticking out of her chest to drain the liquid from her lungs in order to keep breathing.

Doctors ultimately diagnosed her with wet lung, a term for a sensitivity to pneumonitis triggered by ingredients evident in an e-cigarette. Treatment enabled her lungs to recover and she was administered a drug used for severe allergic reactions.

Vaping is also blamed for another condition called ‘popcorn lung,’ caused by breathing in a chemical called diacetyl, a flavouring additive found in e-cigarettes which can result in excessive coughing or wheezing.

Sidenberg said nicotine remains the addictive agent in cigarettes, so any nicotine content in e-juice or vape juice leaves the promoted health benefits as questionable.

She points to the multiple flavourings, from strawberry and other fruits to bacon or alcohols, coupled with attractive packaging as enabling these products, many which are produced by the tobacco industry, to entice buyers.

She called new legislation in Canada to restrict access of these products to youth under 19 and advertising limitations to youth as positive public health care steps.

Related: Ottawa ushers in new rules for e-cigarettes

She said it is discouraging to see smoke pits at local schools evolving into vaping pits when the potential harm from inhaling or exposure to the vapours remains a question with no definitive answer yet.

“Vaping is a way for the tobacco industry to keep marketing cigarette products, but nicotine is the additive element in both and is not good for anyone to use.”

She cited how IH has worked with more than 50 per cent of communities across the health region to develop smoke-free designation bylaws that also include vaping along with cannabis.

“It just makes sense to protect the public from second-hand smoke. There are many misconceptions about vaping but one in particular is that vapes release water vapours rather than smoke, so they are less harmful.

“But as we are getting to understand more, there are other chemicals substances and flavour elements released in a vapour rather than smoke that can irritate the lungs as well. We just don’t have the long-term impact use research over a 25-year period to reach definitive conclusions as we have with cigarette smoking. These devices have only been around since 2003.”

Related: Vaping device overheats, burns down Nanaimo home

Sidenberg said IH’s policy is to advocate for people to quit smoking altogether, and rely on the provincially approved programs in place to help alleviate nicotine addictions.

“The best alternative is to not start smoking in the first place. We can’t tell people what to do, but at the end of the day it’s safe to say only clean air is probably best for your lungs,” she said.

She said IH also warns adults to not leave e-juice containers accessible to children or pets.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of incidents where children or pets consum the contents which are poisonous because of the nicotine content. The product containers are not childproof like for prescription drugs so they need to be stored away in a safe spot and not left on the kitchen counter.”

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