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The number of vaping-related illnesses has not deterred young people from vaping
Brynn Bouman-Howell was admitted to Toronto Western Hospital after having trouble breathing last week.
The 20-year-old says doctors told her that her lungs were inflamed and had fluid in them. They believed the cause of both of these issues was likely her daily use of vape products.
“I was coughing every time I vaped and my lungs have been whistling. When I cough, I can literally feel it come up and it’s just black. Thick and black,” said Bouman-Howell, who started vaping at 18 years old.
Her doctors prescribed up to eight prednisone pills a day to reduce inflammation and three different inhalers to help her breathe. “I feel like an old lady,” she said, holding up her large box of pills.
E-cigarettes heat pods that can contain nicotine, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabinoid (CBD) oils, creating an aerosol substance that is inhaled. Bouman-Howell tried various kinds of e-cigarettes but says that the JUUL was the one she always went back to. Before she was hospitalized, Bouman-Howell said she could go through up to two JUUL pods a day at five per cent nicotine strength.
One JUUL pod can have the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes, the boxes state. The nicotine or cannabis compounds in vape pods come in a variety of flavours, which Bouman-Howell says makes them both addicting and intriguing.
Despite recent news about the potential risks connected to vaping, many young people are continuing to use vape products. In 2018, the Canadian Cancer Society conducted a study and found that vaping increased by 74 per cent in one year among youth ages 16 to 19.
Lauren Harris,18, started vaping when she was 16 years old after taking some hits from her friends’ JUUL. Since then, Harris says, she goes through a three per cent nicotine strength JUUL pod every two days.
“I’ve developed the mentality that I’m immune to the side effects of vaping. I’m not unaware of what’s going on and what is happening to these people could happen to me,” said Harris. “I guess I’m just addicted.”
Potential risks of vaping include severe lung injury, lung disease and even death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although the CDC is unsure of the specific causes of lung-related illnesses, they are focussing on the ingredients that dissolve the nicotine and cannabis compounds such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin.
“Some of my friends wake up in the morning and vape just as a bad habit. They don’t need to, but it’s just so easy and accessible to vape anywhere,” said Danny Vo, a second-year fashion design student at Ryerson University. “I would have been cautious if I knew more about the negative effects of vaping.”
Vo says he would take a hit from his JUUL every five minutes throughout his day, especially during his classes. While Vo says he has now quit vaping, at the height of his use he would go through one JUUL pod a day at five per cent nicotine strength.
The CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state and local health departments, and other clinical and public health partners in the U.S. are currently investigating if e-cigarette use is linked to the recent outbreak of lung injuries. According to the Wall Street Journal 26 people have died from illnesses linked to vaping in the United States.
In September of 2019, Health Canada warned Canadians of the potential risk of pulmonary illness associated with vaping products after a teenager in London, Ont., was put on life support due to illness linked with using an e-cigarette. No official statistics on hospitalizations linked to vaping in Canada have been released.
Health Canada has advised Canadians who vape to “promptly seek medical attention if you have concerns about your health.”
Anne Kennedy, the senior manager at Esmoker Canada, a specialty vape store with multiple locations in Toronto, said that all products sold at her stores are from manufacturers that have been approved by Health Canada. “The products we sell are different from the ones that have been linked to the ones in the U.S.,” said Kennedy. Unlike convenience stores that sell e-cigarette products, Kennedy says specialty vape shops like Esmoker Canada are regulated by Health Canada, which have approved all of the manufacturers and products that they sell, including JUUL products.
Class-action lawsuits in B.C. were submitted against electronic cigarette company JUUL for allegedly misrepresenting the risks of vaping compared to smoking. The Ryersonian requested comment from JUUL, but did not receive a response.
“I’m a long-term vaper, and if there are risks (to vaping) I would like to know,” said Kennedy. “But I feel as though the evidence has not been presented yet.”
Bouman-Howell says she purchased all of her e-cigarette products from specialty vape stores in Toronto, and always requested the highest quality vape. “It was always a conversation I had with the clerk at the store. I always got their opinion because they are the professionals.
“My sister’s eight years old and she knows what a JUUL is. The thought of my little sister vaping (scares me),” she said.
“When I was a kid cigarettes were a scary thing. Every kid was like, ‘Ew they’re smoking cigarettes; that’s so gross.’ Vaping is not seen like that … it’s literally glamourized. There are ads on the television saying, ‘Do this! It tastes great!’ It’s actually the most messed up thing.”