The recent spate of deaths and lung illness prompted U.S President Trump on Wednesday in the Oval Office to say that "flavoured" vaping products should be banned as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, right, looks on. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

Deaths, illness raise the issue of youth vaping and marketing to young people

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A handful of deaths and hundreds of reports of lung illness in the U.S. has greatly raised concern over the practice of vaping among young people.

The recent deaths and illnesses have caused U.S President Trump to weigh in on the issue.

André Picard is a columnist at Canada’s influential Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto and author of “Matters of Life and Death-Public Health Issues in Canada”

Health columnist and author Andre Picard, on policies involving vaping related to recent U.S deaths and President Trump statement

While the common connection among these cases is vaping, it’s not entirely clear yet what the exact cause is. Vaping THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, may be the cause or perhaps some of chemicals used in creating the vaping liquid “juice”.

Reports say there’s a growing number of young people who are vaping, At least one U.S. study showed the materials in the liquid may adversely affect lung health (Aliaksandr Barouski/Shutterstock)

Canada has introduced measures to limit the marketing of vaping products to young people, but those measures seem not to be working well.

Flavoured “juice” clearly geared at young people is still available, and vaping use has risen considerably among youth in Canada.

There has been speculation in the U.S that products in the juice, possibly Vitamin E acetate used as a thickener, may be involved. While used in many topical products, face cream etc. which are rubbed on the skin, vapourizing it into the lungs may have a negative effect.

August 2019: E-cigarette advertising hangs above candy at a convenience store in Toronto. Many health experts are concerned about marketing of e-cigarettes seemingly aimed at youths, including “fruity flavours” and colourful advertisements and are seeking tighter restrictions on sales and marketing. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

A recent American study also found the solvents used in the juice disrupts a protective layer in the lungs, causing “havoc” according to the researchers.

The solvents are also suspected by Dr. Dilini Vethanayagam, a respirologist at the University of Alberta. Quoted by CBC News.  She noted that the lung air sacs, alveoli, are meant to transfer gases, and when coated by oily droplets, the gases can’t pass through. “”When we inhale something that we shouldn’t like lipids [fats] that don’t clear well after it’s inhaled it kind of lines the alveolar sacs that are meant for respiration. Over time if you’re vaping on a daily, weekly basis, it can accumulate further. So death is just one aspect of the tip of the iceberg.”

Although there is a federal Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, which restricts flavours appealing to young people and marketing, there are nonetheless varying policies provincially across the country and enforcement would also seem to be an issue.

Earlier this year a British Columbia politician proposed an amendment to ban outright “kid friendly” vape flavours like bubblegum, cotton candy, and gummy-bears.

Bans or even stiff regulations also present a potential problem of people simply turning to online sales. When it comes to products sold online, it is also difficult to be certain where the product is coming from, who makes it, and what exactly is in it.

Picard says that if the U.S follows through and bans flavoured vaping liquids, it is likely Canada would follow suit. He notes however, that regulating online sales will be extremely difficult to control.

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