As vaping-related illnesses hit Canada, a lung expert says we need to rethink e-cigarettes


Grace Parraga says what we don’t know about vaping could hurt us

Lucas McClain took up vaping in a bid to quit smoking, but recent deaths related to vaping have him putting down the Juul — and moving back to cigarettes.

Juul is a popular brand of vaping products.

“When I switched to Juul, it was working out for a long time — for about a year — until I’ve been recently reading things that said Juul is very bad for you,” McClain, 21, told Day 6.

Health officials in London, Ont., announced on Wednesday the first confirmed vaping-related illness in Canada. The teenage patient was put on life-support, but has since been released and is “doing well.” Health officials have since reported additional cases.

Hundreds of similar cases have been reported across the United States in recent months.

The move from vaping back to smoking is something Grace Parraga, a professor at Western University and the Canada Research Chair in Lung Imaging to Transform Outcomes, is seeing more often.

“Vaping was believed to be reasonably harmless and much less [harmful] than cigarettes,” she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

“But now we’re seeing these extreme cases of lung injury, lung toxicity and complete lung organ failure in some patients.”

Like inhaling butter vapour

Parraga has examined the effects of vaping on lungs amid the recent spate of vaping-related illnesses.

In the United States, the sickness has been linked to oils used in some vape liquids, both nicotine and THC — the active chemical in cannabis — products. The patients otherwise didn’t have any bacterial or viral infection in the lungs, Parraga said.

“They’re getting a form of pneumonia or lung toxicity that’s not related to the normal foreign bodies that we’re used to experiencing, like bacteria and viruses,” Parraga explained.

She likens the use of certain so-called vape juice varieties to inhaling vaporized butter from microwave popcorn.

“There’s about 2,500 kilometres of airways and there are about 500 million tiny air sacs. And so I tried to imagine how you could get an oily substance down into those tiny air sacs,” she said.

“If you pop popcorn in the microwave oven and you open the bag when it’s super hot, you can just inhale all those buttery fumes. They smell great, but they’re not great for your lungs.”

Kids could take up smoking

With little information about how vaping affects the lungs, Parraga says it’s hard for users to make informed decisions about the practice. She welcomes efforts by Ontario’s Ministry of Health to gather information about vaping-related illnesses from hospitals in that province.

“We don’t really understand deeply what’s going on in all patients that vape for short and long periods of time,” she said.

Oils aren’t the only concern for Parraga, however. Both advances in technology and significant nicotine content have led to growth in the vaping industry — and increased use.

According to McClain, vaping fuelled his nicotine addiction more than than cigarettes.

Juul says that one vape liquid cartridge can include the same nicotine content as a pack of 20 cigarettes. However, due to the discreet nature of the product, it’s easier to take more puffs more often.

“Because it was so convenient and I could hit it at any time of the day … I was hitting it a lot more than I would have been smoking cigarettes and I was taking in much more nicotine,” McClain said.

Though vaping has been seen as a method to help quit cigarettes, Parraga says that smoking rates in Canada have been dropping for 20 years — before e-cigarettes became popular.

“My concern is that kids who do vape who never would have picked up a cigarette might start smoking cigarettes, and I am concerned about vapers who are trying to quit,” she said.

Read full article here.

Lucas McClain and Grace Parraga – CBC Radio – September 21, 2019.

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