A Tobacco Enforcement Officer spoke to Vernonites on Thursday to set the record straight on the health effects of vaping in the city and across the country.
The Vernon Library hosted members of the public for a vaping information session as part of National Addiction Awareness Week. The event featured a presentation by Emelia Gazsity, Interior Health’s Tobacco Enforcement Officer from Revelstoke to Penticton.
While much of her talk touched upon the misinformation by vaping companies regarding the health effects of their products, her main order of business was to make one thing clear: there’s currently no way to precisely pin down the health impacts of vaping, partly because there are so many variations in today’s “wild west” market, and also because research around vaping is still in its infancy.
“I’m here to say that we don’t have a clear answer yet because there are so many factors. If you don’t take anything else from today, that’s my biggest point.”
Gazsity is a proponent of using vaping as a tool for harm reduction, and said that when vaping products first came on the market they were primarily being used by smokers to help kick their nicotine addictions.
“I’m not wanting to shut down the vaping industry, I really think it has a place as a harm reduction tool,” she said.
But a lot has changed in the industry since its early days, and the vaping market has become saturated with thousands of flavours (including many that are appealing to younger people), as well as higher nicotine levels.
A key turning point is the emergence of Juul, a $38 billion vaping company that saw a meteoric rise in 2017 and 2018 and is now in control of 72 per cent of the market share.
“Juul figured out how to put in the maximum amount of nicotine and by doing that they created this product that is highly addictive.”
According to Gazsity, smoking one of Juul’s sleek e-cigarettes can lead to a nicotine addiction in just 24 hours.
Gazsity highlighted a new diagnosis of a severe vaping-related lung disease by Canadian doctors, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Thursday. The diagnosis stems from the case of an Ontario teen who nearly died from the disease.
So far there have been no deaths as a direct result of the disease, but as of Nov. 7 there have been two confirmed cases in Quebec, five probable cases in New Brunswick and three in B.C., Gazsity said.
For Gazsity, the biggest concern around vaping is its popularity among youth, who often don’t recognize the potential harm.
“The 2017 Truth Initiative Study found that of 15- to 17-year-olds who use Juul, 63 per cent didn’t understand that there was nicotine in it,” she said. “So they view this device as harmless, and the company goes very strong on making this about harmlessness.”
The bright spot in Gazsity’s presentation was that changes are on the way. B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix put out a statement in June containing 10 points of action to get a handle on vaping. Gaszity said she expects the 10 points to become official regulations in the very near future.
The soon-to-be regulations include restrictions on the concentration and delivery of nicotine, the promotion and sale of flavoured products, and vaping advertising.
The Ministry of Education has also been involved in regulation talks, and Gazsity also believes a better system for handling vaping in schools will soon be on the way.
“I think what they’re going to come up with is a strategy to address the schools so there can be a standardized program across the board and that all schools are going to be doing it the same way,” she said.
“Everybody’s doing it differently right now.”