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Ontario health minister orders hospitals to report all cases of vaping-related illness

A man uses a vape as he walks on Broadway in New York City, U.S., September 9, 2019. "According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are currently six deaths and 380 confirmed or probable cases of severe lung disease due to vaping," Christopher Labos writes.
Ontario Minister of Health Christine Elliott has ordered hospitals to begin reporting all cases of vaping-related lung disease to the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Saying she is increasingly concerned about possible health effects of vaping, Ontario Minister of Health Christine Elliott has ordered hospitals to begin reporting all cases of vaping-related lung disease to the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.

“In light of the growing evidence, I have become increasingly concerned about the prevalence and possible health consequences of vaping, particularly as they affect our youth. At the same time, it has become abundantly clear that we do not have access to sufficient data and information to understand the potential scope of this issue,” Elliott said in a statement issued Wednesday.

Elliott issued an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act requiring public hospitals in the province to provide the Chief Medical Officer of Health with non-identifying information about cases of vaping related to severe pulmonary disease. The Public Health Agency of Canada has asked provinces and territories to do so.

“This information, not previously available to the Ministry of Health, will be critical as we continue to engage with leading experts to identify evidence-based solutions that protect our youth from the potential dangers of vaping.”

Ontario has been criticized for allowing e-cigarettes to be promoted in convenience and other non-specialty stores. Tobacco products cannot be promoted the same way. Public health experts warned that such promotion could increase rates of vaping, especially among youth. Under federal law, promotions are not supposed to appeal to youth, but observers say that is a difficult issue to police.

While hundreds of cases, and seven deaths, in the U.S. have been attributed to vaping related lung illness, there have been no cases reported in Canada. Ottawa smoke cessation expert Dr. Andrew Pipe said the lack of reports in Canada could be because doctors are not making the connection to illness with vaping. That will change under the provincial order. Pipe also said it would be naïve to think that Canada will not see any vaping related illnesses.

Hayley Chazen, spokeswoman for Elliott, said hospitals could potentially have seen patients who fit the clinical profile of having vaping-related severe pulmonary disease “and we wouldn’t necessarily know unless they voluntarily reported.

“This first step will mandate hospitals to share this information so that we can better understand the potential scope of this emerging issue as we continue to engage expert to identify evidence-based solutions. As we do, we are considering all options to protect our youth from the potential dangers of vaping.”

Health Canada has warned non-smokers, pregnant women and young people not to vape.

“Vaping is not without risk, and the potential long-term effects of vaping remain unknown,“ the agency said in a statement.

Officials have yet to determine the cause of the severe lung illnesses and deaths being seen in the U.S. in recent weeks.

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control is investigating more than 380 cases of lung illnesses and seven deaths. It still doesn’t know the specific cause of the illnesses, but says many patients have reported using marijuana products and nicotine. Some have reported using e-cigarette products containing only nicotine.

“We do not yet know the specific cause of these illnesses. The investigation has not identified any specific e-cigarette or vaping product or substance that is linked to all cases.”

Health agencies, including the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Lung Association and the Canadian Cancer Society are expected to call for a federal crackdown on the marketing of vaping products on Thursday. The federal government is considering stricter advertising rules for e-cigarettes.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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