Possible vaping death in U.S. has Manitoba lung association concerned

A Winnipeg-based respiratory therapist says more research is needed into the health effects of vaping after a patient in the U.S. died of a severe respiratory illness after using e-cigarettes.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has not revealed the patient’s gender, age or even how the person died, but the death comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigates 193 cases of severe lung illness across 22 states.

In all cases, the CDC says patients reported using e-cigarette products or “vaping.”


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Neil Johnston, from the Manitoba Lung Association, says while it’s too soon to say whether or not vaping played a role in the person’s death, it’s important people understand what they’re inhaling.

“The bottom line is we don’t really know and we don’t really know what the effects are,” Johnston told 680 CJOB Tuesday.

“We are quite concerned that this might be the canary in the coal mine for diseases that we thought we were getting a handle on with the reduction of tobacco smoking.”

Health Canada says it has no evidence of any similar illnesses related to vaping, but it is monitoring the situation carefully.

The CDC says it’s working with state departments of health to test patient specimens and e-cigarette products for possible contamination.

‘The air is not clear’

Johnston said if he had been asked a month ago whether or not vaping is safer than smoking, he would have said it likely is, but now he’s not so sure.

“The air is not clear on that,” he said.

“We know that people who vape regularly do get sore throat and they do get coughs and it really increases people’s problems if they have asthma.”

He said one of the biggest issues facing researchers looking into the safety and health effects of vaping is how quickly vaping products are changing.


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A recently released study, he notes, was based on the first generation of vape devices, which makes it difficult to extrapolate the data for the latest devices.

“The research is playing continual catch-up,” he said, adding it can also take years for lung disease to show up, making research into the long-term effects difficult.

“We do know that there are some harmful effects, but the long-term — that’s where we’re really concerned about,” he said.

“It’s really tough to provide research when the landscape’s changing.”

In the meantime Johnston said he’d like to see standardization of vaping products and more work done to keep vape products out of the hands of kids.

–With files from Heather Yourex-West

RELATED VIDEO: Gap in smoking laws allows Manitoba hookah lounges to stay in business

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