NWT Chief Public Health Officer asks people to stop vaping after vaping-related deaths, illnesses

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The Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) for the Northwest Territories has some very simple advice for people who vape or who are thinking about trying it.

Dr. Kami Kandola says it you’ve already started – stop, and if you are thinking about trying a vapourizer, think carefully again.

Kandola’s advice comes after the U.S. Centres of Disease Control (CDC) reports at least nine American deaths linked to vaping.

There has also been at least one Canadian illness linked to vaping – a teenager in London, Ont.

The doctor is very concerned about the health of anyone who vapes or uses e-cigarettes, particularly young people.

“Vaping is heating up a substance so you can inhale nicotine or cannabis vapours as opposed to smoking a cigarette (or a joint).  The U.S. and the U.K. noticed an increase in vaping among young people well before we did in Canada.  The current data in the U.S. shows about 530 cases of severe pulmonary (lung) illness due to vaping.”

Dr. Kandola says part of vaping’s popularity is that it is often advertised as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes.

She says however, that is debatable.

Dr. Kandola says it’s true that vapours from vaping products may contain fewer chemicals than cigarette smoke, but that harmful chemicals and contaminants are still present.

She adds that the long-term effects of vaping on human health are still not completely known.

The NWT Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) has an advisory out to parents when it comes to vaping.

Health officials want them to monitor family members who vape and check for symptoms such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath or chest pain, and to seek medical attention if any or all of the symptoms are present or if their general lung health concerns.

The chief public health officer also issued a public health notice last month to health officials and medical practitioners across the territory.

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It too asks them to keep an eye out for respiratory illnesses that may be the result of vaping and asks that they get back to the CPHO if any are discovered.

She says that the majority of cases have been diagnosed among younger people, people in their mid-30s and younger.

The doctor says the majority of the cases have been found in males.

Dr. Kandola says that U.S. vape companies and advertisers appear to be targeting young people with products such as flavoured vaping products.

She adds that she hasn’t seen any vaping ads in the NWT that are targeting younger people.

Dr. Kandola says new NWT legislation to take effect in the new year will have strict regulations against vaping ads directed towards younger people.

“Vaping is relatively new in the NWT. In 2018 we did an addictions survey and found that 16 per cent of the population reported they’d tried vaping at least once in their lifetime and the majority of them were young people,” she said.

‘Unnecessary hysteria’

Not surprisingly, Michael Williams, who operates a vaping supply store called VapouRevolution in Yellowknife as well as other stores in B.C., Alberta and the Yukon, says the media and others have created unnecessary hysteria around vaping.

“The Centres for Disease control has started linking 95 per cent of these cases to illegal vape cartridges that have THC (the active ingredient in cannabis).  When you look at e-juice which is what we sell behind the counter in Yellowknife and our other stores – everything is federally regulated, the ingredients are federally approved,” Williams said. “The media is categorizing the illegal THC cartridges with e-cigarettes. People want to put all the apples in one basket and that’s not necessarily the case.”

Williams says the illegal THC cartridges are only available online or through the black market.

He also points out that vaping cannabis is not yet legal in Canada.

He says that if the GNWT is serious about keeping vaping products away from young people then it should enact a legal vaping age, something he says the GNWT has yet to do, unlike Alberta, B.C. and the Yukon.

It’s believed the NWT’s legislation on a vaping age, expected to be 18, will take effect in the New Year.

According to Damien Healey, spokesperson for HSS, federal rules still apply.

“There is currently no NWT legislation that applies to vaping products. However, the federal Tobacco and Vaping Products Act still applies, and prohibits the selling, giving, sending, delivering, etc. of vaping products to young persons, which is defined as anyone under 18,” Healey stated in an email to CKLB.

Williams says they do not sell vaping products at their stores in Yellowknife to anyone under 18 years of age.

He stands by his company’s assertion that for those people trying to quit smoking cigarettes or who prefer vaping, it is a safer alternative.

“They can breathe better, they can taste their food and they don’t smell like junk,” he says.

About the Author

John McFadden
John has been in the broadcast journalism industry since the 1980s. He has been a reporter in Yellowknife since 2012 and joined CKLB in January of 2018. John covers the crime and court beat as well as reporting on other areas including politics, business, entertainment and sports. He won seven national community newspaper awards while he was a journalist with Northern News Services Limited (NNSL). John worked in Ontario before coming North including stints as a TV sportscaster in Peterborough and senior news writer for CBC and CTV in downtown Toronto.