Ottawa health officials urge action as vaping-related deaths rise in U.S.
Ottawa Tobacco Enforcement Officer Jennifer Thomsen
Another vaping-related death in the U.S. has prompted health officials on this side of the border to demand urgent action.
Six people have died from a lung-disease linked to vaping hundreds more are ill.
An Ottawa doctor saysHealth Canada has been caught flat-footed on this issue.
Health officials in Canada aren't aware of any Canadians who are ill or who have died as a result of vaping but that doesn't mean they're not out there.
For now, there's a concerted effort on the parts of many to stress particularly to young people just how dangerous vaping can be.
At an east end high school, Ottawa Tobacco Enforcement Officer Jennifer Thomsen displays just some of the vaping products Ottawa high schools have confiscated from kids.
“We even have one in here that was taken off a 12-year-old,” she says.
Vaping isn't allowed anywhere on school property and those under 19 aren’t allowed to buy it. But Thomsen says it's become such a huge problem that they've laid triple the amount of fines in one year alone: $305 if you’re caught vaping or smoking where you’re not supposed to and $490 if you’re caught sharing or supplying.
“Before we would give the students leeway,” Thomsen says, “Now we're cracking down on it because we've got kids who would never have picked up cigarettes that are now really addicted to this habit; it’s easily accessible for them.”
Addiction is just part of the problem. There's a growing concern over unexplained illnesses and deaths in the United States potentially linked to vaping.
This week, a 6th person died and nearly 500 people have serious respiratory illnesses across 42 States, prompting the U.S. President to consider banning flavored e-cigarettes.
“We are looking at vaping very strongly,” he said, “Children have died, people have died.”
It's something Ottawa's Medical Health Officer will ask of the Board of Health on Monday, along with a recommendation to require plain and standardized packaging on vaping products.
“We had success in the world of cigarettes,” says Dr. Vera Etches, “We are looking for the same approach when it comes to vaping; limit the flavors. That can have an impact on whether youth try vaping or not.”
One of Canada's experts in smoking cessation, Dr. Andrew Pipe, says it's time Health Canada acted effectively to address this issue.
“Health Canada does have capacity and ability to declare a public health emergency and on that basis to take action quickly and that's something that should be considered at the present time.”
Health Canada says it pursuing action to address youth vaping by trying to
"increase awareness about the harms and risks associated with vaping products,” it said in a statement.
“Health Canada is concerned about the uptake in youth vaping and has been pursuing a comprehensive suite of actions to address youth vaping, including a national public education campaign to increase awareness about the harms and risks associated with vaping products. Health Canada has considered further restrictions on flavoured vaping products: in April 2019, Health Canada consulted publicly on potential regulatory measures to reduce youth access and appeal of vaping products, including measures to prohibit the manufacture and sale of vaping products with certain flavours or flavour ingredients and/or prohibiting the promotion of certain flavours. Health Canada is currently reviewing the feedback from this consultation.”
But it may take more than that to convince a population of vapors to put the vape pens down.
“It's not scaring me yet,” says University of Ottawa student John Park, who vapes, “but maybe some time in the future, yeah.”
The Centre for Disease Control in the U.S. says there's no conclusive evidence as to what's killing people but in the meantime, they're recommending people not vape until they know for sure.