Officials in B.C. and Ontario are investigating four cases of a severe lung disease tied to vaping products – one probable and three possible – as Health Canada warns people who vape to monitor themselves for symptoms of the disease.
Ontario has three cases: One “probable” case involves a high-school student who was on life support in the intensive care unit of a London hospital several weeks ago and has since recovered. The other two “possible” cases are being investigated and the provincial Ministry of Health did not release any other information.
Toronto Public Health has also said it has received reports of other possible cases in recent weeks, but it has to investigate further. The provincial ministry, however, said it was only investigating the three cases.
British Columbia provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said there has been one suspected case of vaping-related lung illness in her province, but it’s unclear whether it is part of the larger outbreak. She had no further information about the person affected, except to say they have since recovered.
She said federal officials should tighten regulations on vaping products to protect young people from the health risks they carry, including nicotine addiction and long-term lung and heart problems.
“They need to be treated like we treat cigarettes,” Dr. Henry said, referring to restrictions on advertising, a ban on retail displays and other measures that have helped reduce cigarette-smoking rates.
Reports of vaping-related lung illness first emerged in the U.S. several weeks ago. On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there have been seven deaths and 530 confirmed and probable cases of severe lung illness tied to vaping products.
In Canada, several provinces have only just started to make the lung illness a notifiable condition, which is a formal process that requires hospitals to report possible cases to provincial or national health authorities. Without that formal process, it would be easy for doctors and other health professionals to miss possible cases, said Dr. Henry. For instance, some people who show up to the hospital with respiratory symptoms could be diagnosed with a serious viral infection.
While health professionals should be asking patients about their smoking and vaping habits, that conversation may not always come up. Even if they do ask, the vaping-related illness is so new that doctors may not recognize a connection between the respiratory symptoms and the vaping products.
B.C. is in the process of making the vaping-related lung illness a notifiable condition and after that takes effect, Dr. Henry said she expects that the number of cases will start to rise.
“Once we start looking, then I fully expect that we’ll have a few cases,” she said.
Earlier this week, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced the lung illness would also be a notifiable condition in Ontario. Alberta adopted a similar policy Sept. 5, but officials say no suspected or confirmed cases have been reported there.
It’s unclear what is causing the lung illness, but CDC officials said most of the people who have fallen ill in the U.S. were vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), many of which would have been purchased on the black market. Until a cause has been identified, the CDC suggests everyone avoid vaping products.
Canadian health officials have said non-smokers, youth and pregnant women should not vape.
As reports of vaping-related lung illness emerge in Canada, a coalition of health groups on Thursday called on federal political parties to commit to a crackdown on vaping products.
Andrew Pipe, chair of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, said the risk of severe lung disease and the dangers of nicotine addiction, heart and lung problems, and other vaping-related health issues require an immediate response.
“There’s a very substantial and urgent public health requirement for these products to be regulated in exactly the same way other tobacco products are regulated,” Dr. Pipe said in an interview.
Sandy Buchman, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said doing nothing risks rolling back all of the gains that have been made with tobacco control in recent decades.
“Youth vaping is a public health crisis and we need the action now,” he said.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.