In recent years, vaping has gone from a phenomenon to a crisis among Canadian teens and young adults, say researchers.
Fifteen years after they were introduced in Canada, e-cigarettes made headlines in 2019 with a spike in vaping-related illnesses and soaring rates of youth vaping.
If 2019 was the year of the vaping scare, observers and critics are hoping that 2020 will be the year in which Canada gains some control over the issue.
Before the year was over the federal government began taking steps in that direction by announcing a ban on promotion of vaping products in spaces where young people could see them, including on social media. It also announced that e-cigarettes must carry mandatory health warnings and must be child resistant.
Critics want to see the government go much further when it comes to reducing teen vaping.
The mandate letter to newly appointed federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu suggests the government could go further. The letter, released in mid-December, tells the health minister to “tackle the rapid increase in vaping among young people,” in collaboration with other levels of government by taking regulatory action to “reduce the promotion and appeal of vaping products to young people and by educating the public to raise awareness of health risks.”
The federal government and others have their work cut out.
In recent years, vaping has gone from a phenomenon to a crisis among Canadian teens and young adults, researchers say.
In groundbreaking research, Professor David Hammond of the University of Waterloo found that between 2017 and 2018 vaping increased by a stunning 74 per cent among Canadian teens between the ages of 16 and 19. His ongoing research suggests there has been a similar increase in youth vaping in 2019 and Hammond believes numbers of youth vaping could go higher yet.
The Canadian Student tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs survey for 2018-2019 found e-cigarette use by students doubled between 2016-17 and 2018-19. Twenty per cent of students surveyed (approximately 418,000) had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, an increase from 10 per cent the last time the survey was done in 2016-17.
The figures are shocking, but likely no surprising to those who have been seeing the first-hand evidence in schools and other places teenagers frequent.
In Ottawa and elsewhere, schools have taken the doors off bathrooms to try to control vaping, without much luck. Teachers report students vaping in class — exhaling into the sleeves to try to hide it and vaping wherever they can.
The huge spike in teen vaping is likely related to high rates of nicotine in Juul e-cigarettes and other popular products.
Before Juul came along, there were almost no e-cigarette brands with more than 20 mg of nicotine for each millilitre of e-liquid. That is the limit in Europe. But in North America, Juul contains 57 mg of nicotine. The federal government only limits nicotine to 66 mg or below.
The biggest change in the market, said Hammond, is that Juul designed a product that could deliver higher amounts of nicotine while remaining smooth tasting. The result has been high rates of nicotine addiction, mainly among youth.
Along with spiking teen vaping rates, dramatic and deadly cases of vaping-related illnesses have been in the news, especially in the U.S. where 52 people have died and more than 2,400 have been hospitalized. In Canada, 14 cases of vaping related illness have been reported.
The acute illnesses and deaths in the U.S. have been linked to the additive Vitamin E acetate in THC in most cases.
A study published in December, found e-cigarette users were significantly more likely to develop long-term chronic lung disease than non-smokers.
The issues have occurred against a backdrop of weak or non-existent federal regulations in Canada, which has been consulting on tougher regulations. Some provinces have toughened their laws, including a ban on the sale of flavoured vaping liquid in New Brunswick and a reduction in nicotine levels in British Columbia.
Hammond said Health Canada has failed to properly regulate the product and as a result has failed both the adult smokers who could use them to quit cigarettes and the teenagers who have become addicted to nicotine.
E-cigarettes, he noted, are less harmful than cigarettes, but they are also highly addictive: “It might not make sense to sell them beside the chips and chocolate bars.”
Meanwhile, many of the adult smokers who could reduce their harm by switching to e-cigarettes are no longer interested. “Adults don’t want to go near them. Everyone sees this as something 15-year-olds grab on the way to a party.”
Ottawa’s Dr. Andrew Pipe said the federal government needs to step up with tougher regulations. The existing regulations are tepid, he said, and have left a regulatory vacuum. Even the changes announced at the end of the year do not come close to what he and others want to see — notably banning flavoured e-cigarettes.
Pipe, who is considered the country’s foremost expert on smoking cessation, was instrumental in developing the Ottawa Model for Smoking Cessation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. He wants to see flavoured e-cigarettes banned and limits on nicotine, in addition to the restrictions on where they can be sold and mandatory health warnings, which have been announced.
One of the sad ironies of the lack of regulation, Pipe said, is that the potential of e-cigarettes to be used as harm reduction “has now essentially been squandered. No responsible clinician is now going to entertain the use of e-cigarettes as a harm reduction aid. Their potential for harm reduction has gone out the window.”
Pipe urged the new federal minister of health to act strongly to turn around soaring youth vaping rates buy using emergency powers to expedite changes while longer-term regulations are being developed.
“We are dealing with an urgent, emergent public health issue which many have labelled a crisis.”
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Austrian government proposes law to legalise assisted suicide
Austria’s federal government has submitted a draft law to make assisted suicide for seriously ill adults legal, the federal chancellery said in a statement on Saturday.
The new law lays out the conditions under which assisted suicide will be possible in the future, following a ruling by Austria’s Constitutional Court last December according to which banning assisted suicide was unconstitutional because it violated a person’s right to self-determination.
“Seriously ill people should have access to assisted suicide,” the federal chancellery said in the statement.
The new law allows chronically or terminally ill adults to make provisions for an assisted suicide.
They have to consult two doctors who have to attest the person is capable of making his or her own decisions. A delay of 12 weeks also has to be respected that can be reduced to two weeks for patients in the final phase of an illness.
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Namibia suspends use of Russian COVID vaccine after S.Africa flags HIV concerns
Namibia will suspend the rollout of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, its health ministry said on Saturday, days after the drugs regulator in neighbouring South Africa flagged concerns about its safety for people at risk of HIV.
Regulator SAHPRA decided not to approve an emergency use application for Sputnik V for now because some studies suggested that administration of vaccines using the Adenovirus Type 5 vector – which Sputnik V does – can lead to higher susceptibility to HIV in men.
South Africa and Namibia have high HIV prevalence rates.
Namibia’s health ministry said in a statement that the decision to discontinue use of the Russian vaccine was “out of (an) abundance of caution that men (who) received Sputnik V may be at higher risk of contracting HIV,” adding it had taken SAHPRA’s decision into account.
The Gamaleya Research Institute, which developed Sputnik V, said Namibia’s decision was not based on any scientific evidence or research.
“Sputnik V remains one of the safest and most efficient vaccines against COVID-19 in use globally,” the institute told Reuters, adding over 250 clinical trials and 75 international publications confirmed the safety of vaccines and medicines based on human adenovirus vectors.
Namibia said the suspension would take effect immediately and last until Sputnik V receives a World Health Organization Emergency Use Listing. But it will offer people who received a first dose of Sputnik V a second to complete their immunisation course.
Namibia received 30,000 doses of Sputnik V as a donation from the Serbian government, but only 115 had been administered as of Oct. 20.
Namibia has also been using COVID-19 vaccines developed by China’s Sinopharm, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, acquired through a mix of procurement deals and donations.
So far it has only fully vaccinated around 240,000 of its 2.5 million people, reflecting African nations’ difficulties securing enough vaccines amid a global scramble for shots.
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Britain reports highest weekly COVID-19 cases since July
Britain recorded the highest number of new cases of COVID-19 since July over the past week, government figures showed on Saturday, a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down the prospect of a return to lockdown.
Some 333,465 people in Britain tested positive for COVID-19 over the past seven days, up 15% on the previous week and the highest total since the seven days to July 21.
Daily figures https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk showed there were 44,985 new cases on Saturday, down from 49,298 on Friday. Daily death figures were only available for England, and showed 135 fatalities within 28 days of a positive test.
Deaths have risen by 12% over the past week, and the total since the start of the pandemic now stands at 139,461, the second highest in Europe after Russia.
While vaccination and better medical treatment have sharply reduced deaths compared with previous waves of the disease, hospitals are already stretched and Britain’s current death rate is far higher than many of its European neighbours.
Government health advisors said on Friday that preparations should be made for the possible reintroduction of measures to slow the spread of the disease, such as working from home, as acting early would reduce the need for tougher measures later.
Johnson, however, said he did not expect a return to lockdown.
“We see absolutely nothing to indicate that is on the cards at all,” he said on Friday.
(Reporting by David Milliken, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Christina Fincer)
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