Health authorities have recently begun seeing a rise in lung illness which appears to be related to vaping. One case in Canada nearly cost a young man his life, and left him with probable permanent lung damage

Newly identified threat from e-cigarettes, vaping

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It was one of Canada’s first cases of lung problems associated with “vaping”. Now doctors have released findings to show this may be the first case of a different and potentially deadly illness associated with e-cigarette use which differs from most previous cases.

Although the instance began in September, details of the illness are only being released now.

Doctors originally thought the 17-year-old patient in London, Ontario had pneumonia.  But he was a regular user of flavoured vaping fluid bought online to which he sometimes added a THC product, the psycho-active chemical in cannabis.

As his condition worsened he was hospitalised and ended up on life-support for much of the 47 days spent in intensive care and came close to needing a double lung transplant.

The ‘substantial rise of vaping’ among Canadian youth has prompted a warning from chief medical officers across the country as more cases of lung injury are being reported (iStock)

The patient is diagnosed with what has been described technically as bronchiolitis obliterans. It is also less formally known as “popcorn lung”.

A CT scan of the teen’s lungs show a number of ‘tree in bud’ patterns, as shown by the the white patches throughout —at the ends of airway branches indicative of airway inflammation. In healthy lungs they would be dark spots. (CMAJ)

Which differs from the several other vaping illness cases in Canada and the well over 2,000 vaping illness cases in the U.S which have also resulted in dozens of deaths. Those cases of lung illness have been medically categorised as EVALI- (E-VAping Lung Injury)

Popcorn Lung was named after the similar lung damage caused to workers at a microwave popcorn factory. It was determined that workers experiencing breathing problems and lung damage had been inhaling the volatile molecules of the butter flavouring compound ‘diacetyl’ being added to the popcorn. The compound is safe to eat, but not to inhale. The study was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Another study from Harvard published in the journal Scientific Reports studied the effect of vaping on the tiny cilia of the lungs but noted that the most common flavoring compound added to e-cigarette liquid is diacetyl but a similar compound, 2,3-pentanedione was sometimes used instead.

Although the youth is now out of hospital and slowly recovering, doctors believe he may have suffered permanent lung damage.

What is not certain was whether the youth was particularly vulnerable to react to the chemicals or whether they were particularly toxic. The latter can’t be known as he threw the containers into the garbage after use.

Lawmakers in the U.S. are looking at banning flavoured liquids for e-cigarettes which they say deliberately target and attract young people. Canadian health advocates are calling for similar or stronger measures here (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Several studies have shown that vaping has become extremely popular among youth, amid accusations from health advocates that the “flavours” offered are designed to deliberately attract youth.

Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, a staff respirologist at Toronto Western Hospital and deputy editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) wrote that “From the start, CMAJ has called for a ban on flavourings in e-liquids, restrictions on e-cigarette advertising equivalent to those for tobacco products, and an effective standard for quality and safety to be imposed on every e-cigarette product sold. We do so again now.”

The latest information from Health Canada says there have been 4 confirmed cases of vaping related illness in this country, and seven probable cases. It also advises that ”If you vape, or have vaped in the past, and have developed symptoms of a cough or shortness of breath, chest pain, or are generally feeling unwell, visit a health care provider. Be sure to mention to your health care provider any history of current or past vaping”.

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4 comments on “Newly identified threat from e-cigarettes, vaping
  1. EVALI means E-cigarette or Vaping products Associated Lung Injury. Perhaps a better acronym would have been EVIL, E-cigarette or Vaping products Injury to the Lungs!

  2. Avatar Costas Piliotis says:

    Stop conflating thc vaping to nicotine ecigarettes. They’re two different things with different ingredients. Stop being bad at journalism. How much is the tobacco lobby paying you for these misleading headlines? I expect better from cbc.

  3. Avatar Terry Rogers says:

    I smoked for 35 years, three years ago switched to vaping and have never felt better. No more coughing or spitting up browners when I brush my teeth in the morning. I know people who have been vaping for almost ten years. You must ask yourself why all of a sudden are people getting sick? People that have been vaping for a relatively short period of time. Three letters, THC. If vaping “normal” eliquid containing propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavours and nicotine was truly the cause the number of illness would be in the millions worldwide. If you want the truth about vaping check out the British College of Physicians or Public Health England. The British authorities say vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking. Two hospitals in Birmingham England have vape shops right inside the facility. You must be very skeptical of any vaping study coming from the USA. Google Master Settlement Agreement for info on the tangled web of money vs public health. The more people who smoke the more money a lot of States get from tobacco companies. Oh, and by the way diacetyl is not “the most common flavoring compound added to e-cigarette liquid” years ago it was present in very small amounts in some caramel, toffee or flavours that needed that buttery taste. It is now virtually gone. Vaping is about harm reduction, 1 out of 2 smokers will die from their habit. That is a crisis in public health and vaping is, IMHO, a valuable tool in harm reduction.

  4. Avatar Angus says:

    Health authorities in London originally claimed that the injured teen had been vaping only flavoured e-cigarettes. Now it turns out that he’d been using THC liquids as well, of unknown origin.

    This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It aligns perfectly with similar cases in the USA, where unsafe additives used in black-market THC liquids were found to cause serious lung damage in users. Given the similarity, isn’t it more likely that unsafe THC liquids are to blame again, rather than the diacetyl used in certain e-cigarette flavours?

    For normal e-cigarettes to be at fault like the doctors claim, you’d have to believe that they could be used by millions across the globe for almost 10 years, with no reported cases of acute lung injury during this time. Then in 2019, in EXACTLY the same time and place where dodgy THC vapes were circulating and causing lung damage, regular e-cigarettes ALSO began to cause acute lung injury after only short periods of use, with exactly the same symptoms!

    This just isn’t credible. It’s obvious that a particular ingredient is to blame, not e-cigarette flavours in general. They have no evidence suggesting otherwise, but they are trying to scare users away from safe products regardless.

    This is not science, it’s a moral panic.