Dr. Michael Siegel says black market THC oil is most likely to blame for illnesses and deaths
For the first time in Canada, there's a case linking severe lung disease to vaping.
Public health officials in London, Ont., say that a high school-aged student recently fell ill and was put on life support after using a vaping device.
It comes at a time when respiratory illnesses related to e-cigarette products are sharply on the rise — and as various jurisdictions are struggling to get a handle on the problem.
In the U.S., seven people have died from vaping-related illnesses. That has prompted New York state and Michigan to ban flavoured e-cigarette products. India just announced it would be banning e-cigarettes altogether.
But some doctors say authorities are snuffing out the wrong culprit.
Dr. Michael Siegel, a Boston University community health sciences professor who runs the blog Tobacco Analysis, told As It Happens host Carol Off that THC oil-based vaping products are likely to blame for the rash of illnesses. Here is part of their conversation.
As you know, authorities around the world are feeling the pressure to ban or to limit vaping. Do you think that's a good idea?
I think that there has been a tremendous overreaction to what's going on in the United States.
We've seen about 400 cases of severe respiratory illness and about seven deaths. And what authorities are not telling people is that in the overwhelming majority of these cases, what is associated with the illness is not vaping electronic cigarettes, but actually vaping illicit marijuana vape cartridges.
So these are THC oils that people are vaping that are getting into the lungs and causing these diseases.
But do we know that for a fact? Are you saying these [people who got sick] were vaping THC and they weren't vaping tobacco?
In about 80 per cent of cases the CDC itself has acknowledged that the individual patients were vaping cannabis THC oils. Some of those patients were also using nicotine liquids as well.
But the one thing that ties together the overwhelming majority of these cases is the use of THC.
And we know that there was a contaminant called vitamin E acetate oil that was found in all of the New York cartridges, THC cartridges, that were tested. And we know that vaping oil is extremely dangerous to the lung.
What we are hearing in the United States and in Canada and other places is that there are warnings now for people not to use e-cigarettes. The Centres for Disease Control in your country has warned users against it. What is that based on in the way of data or information?
I think the CDC is conflating two different problems. One is the problem of youth e-cigarette use, which is certainly a problem, and the other is these respiratory diseases.
And the problem when you conflate the two is that it really confuses the public. And if the CDC were just to simply say, "Hey, don't vape marijuana," I think it would do a lot more to protect people's lives.