Ontario teen was on life-support after respiratory illness linked to vaping

19 September 2019
Kate Dubinski

First reported case of illness linked to vaping in Canada, officials say

An Ontario teenager was put on life-support after using a vaping device in what public health officials say is the first reported case of illness linked to the practice in Canada.

Officials with the Middlesex-London Health Unit were alerted by a local doctor after the high school student fell ill and was sent to hospital.

“The individual was using e-cigarettes at least daily,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, the region’s medical officer of health.

“We have information about the brand used.”

That information is not being released but has been passed to Canada’s chief medical officer of health who will be gathering systematic data to determine if one vaping device is more potent than another.

“We’re not releasing information about the brand information because that would imply that this is something coming from one brand, when clearly looking at the international evidence, that’s not the case,” Mackie said.

Mackie said the teen has been released from hospital and is doing well.

It’s important that people understand vaping does create health risks.– Dr. Chris Mackie

“There are some who claim that vaping is not a risk in Canada,” he said. “That is not the case. It’s important that people understand vaping does create health risks.”

There have been hundreds of such cases in the United States, but this is believed to be the first case of severe pulmonary illness linked to vaping in Canada. 

“We know very little about the long-term health effects associated with e-cigarettes, but our findings so far are enough to convince us of the need to advise the public,” Mackie said.

Mackie did caution that it’s impossible to 100 per cent confirm the youth’s illness was caused by vaping, but said there was no other evidence to suggest it was caused by something else. 

“There was no other cause — no infectious cause,” he said. “The only issue identified is that the individual vaped e-cigarettes.

The health unit says it will not disclose the age, gender or hometown of the patient, claiming confidentiality. 

The news comes on the same day as the Ontario health minister ordered public hospitals to report vaping-related cases of severe pulmonary disease. 

Use ‘escalating’ among youth

It also follows a directive from Health Canada to health-care professionals, telling them to ask patients about their vaping use and if they have any trouble breathing or shortness of breath. 

“The use of these products is escalating at a rate we’ve never seen,” said Linda Stobo, the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s manager of chronic disease prevention and tobacco control team. “Our enforcement officers have seen an exponential increase in the number of students who vape, particularly high school-aged youth, which is a major concern for us.” 

Stobo said the e-cigarettes are marketed in a way that targets a young demographic including:

  • Sleek designs with options to customize the look, including different colours.
  • Hundreds of flavours of e-juice, including candy, designed to attract youth. 
  • Marketing that uses words such as “bold,” “stylish,” “attractive” and “try it.”
  • Some vaping devices can be charged using a computer or cellphone charger, making them enticing to a generation already enamoured with technology. 

Stobo also said she’s worried about the high concentrations of nicotine found in some of the products. She also said local schools are reporting students vaping in washrooms, classrooms and even buses.

Selling vaping products to those under 18 isn’t allowed in Canada, but Health Canada wants to strengthen rules to limit the visibility of vaping ads to young people. 

Some proponents of vaping insist it can be an effective way to prevent people from smoking tobacco, or a way to help smokers quit cigarettes. 

Mackie, however, said it can often work the other way. That someone not interested in smoking may start with vaping then transfer over to cigarettes because they’re cheaper.  

“If you start people on smoking e-juice … then when they run out of money the smoking behaviour starts up,” he said. 

In the United States, there have been hundreds of cases of respiratory illnesses linked to vaping and at least seven deaths. Many of those deaths were linked to vaping cannabis. Mackie wouldn’t say whether cannabis was a factor in the London, Ont., case. 

“The information we have … is that there’s no particular brand that has been implicated, and there’s no particular link with cannabis or not,” he said. “There are cases where cannabis has been involved and cases where it hasn’t been. 

India on Wednesday moved to ban the production, import and sale of electronic cigarettes.

However, the London-Middlesex case is believed to be the first reported in Canada.