Blowing smoke at the consequences

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When electronic cigarettes were introduced a decade ago, they were promoted as an ideal way for tobacco smokers to kick their habit. And even health officials – wary of a lack of research into the devices and their long-term impact – initially applauded the success some tobacco smokers were reporting.

But it didn’t take long for the industry to wander from their original mission – that is, if they ever had a mission outside of marketing a product.

Health officials in both Canada and the U.S. are now becoming increasingly alarmed with the number of teens who have taken up electronic cigarette use. These young users are lured not by the promise of kicking a habit (most have never smoked cigarettes) but by the promise of an experience they believe has no consequence to their long-term health.

Indeed, secondary schools in Toronto are reporting that vaping has become the vice of choice among their students. The kids enjoy the sensory experience of using an electronic cigarette while blowing the vapour into rings and mushroom clouds.


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But as Health Canada reports, there are health risks associated with the chemicals found in vaping products, even those without nicotine. Vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol are the main liquids found in vaping products. They are considered safe in consumer products such as cosmetics and sweeteners, but their long-term impact when inhaled is unknown.

Another unknown are the chemicals used to give vaping products flavour. These chemicals are used by food manufacturers, but their impact on a person’s lungs have not been evaluated.

Yet another ingredient are chemicals such as the formaldehydes used to heat the liquid. Health Canada notes that some contaminants such as nickel, tin and aluminum might also be found in vaping products. But even if the device isn’t “contaminated,” it’s troubling enough that users are possibly inhaling formaldehydes.

The bottom line is that electronic cigarettes, ostensibly introduced as a way for tobacco smokers to kick their habit, have become their own health problem. The products were never suitably tested prior to their introduction, and younger Canadians are increasingly becoming customers. The long-term impact could be devastating.

There is a move to curb the promotion of vaping products in the U.S. Tobacco advertising is banned in both the U.S. and Canada, but such prohibitions haven’t touched vaping. Incredibly, e-cigarette makers are permitted in Canada to say their products are tasty, while showing images of cherries, mangos and other fruit.

That’s a ridiculous and perhaps criminal situation that needs to be stopped.

– Peter Epp

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