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Youth vaping on the rise: London’s medical officer of health

Dr. Chris Mackie, Medical Officer and CEO of Health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit speaks during a press conference in London, Ont., Wednesday, September 18, 2019 as Linda Stobo, manager, Chronic Disease and Tobacco Control at the unit looks on.
Dr. Chris Mackie, Medical Officer and CEO of Health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit speaks during a press conference in London, Ont., Wednesday, September 18, 2019 as Linda Stobo, manager, Chronic Disease and Tobacco Control at the unit looks on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Robins

London politicians are being asked what more they can do at a municipal level to help combat youth vaping.

The community and protective services committee heard from youth advisers to Western University’s Human Environments Analysis Lab during its meeting Tuesday, as well as the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie.

Mackie told the committee that youth vaping has risen by about 75 per cent in the last year, and the city is now seeing an increase in cigarette use by young people for the first time since the 1980s.

He believes the two are linked.

“When vaping first came into the Canadian market several years ago, many of us hoped it would be useful as a smoking cessation device. There was also a concern it might serve as a gateway into tobacco use once people were addicted to nicotine,” Mackie said.

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“At the time, nobody anticipated the very severe and sometimes fatal cases of vaping-associated lung disease that we are now seeing.”

READ MORE: 2 new probable cases of vaping-related illness reported in Ontario

Mackie adds that tobacco companies are using what he refers to as “concerning tactics” to get their products into the hands of young people.

“Tobacco companies are now forcing corner stores to carry vaping products. They say if you’re going to carry our tobacco products you must, by contractual obligation, also carry our vaping products,” said Mackie, noting that his 10-year-old daughter knows the name of two vaping brands.

There are currently 110 licensed vape shops in the city.

He says that although vaping doesn’t come with the same long-term issues as smoking, the risks in the short term can be severe, especially when you consider additives like THC.

In September, Mackie and the Middlesex London Health Unit reported what was believed to be the first vaping-related illness in Canada.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) published an article in November that detailed the case of a London-area teenager who was hospitalized for 47 days with a lung disease.

Doctors say the unidentified boy’s illness appeared to resemble so-called popcorn lung, which is normally found in factory workers forced to breathe in toxic chemicals often seen in products like microwave popcorn.

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READ MORE: Ontario public high school teachers hold 1-day strike after contract talks stall

Mackie says there isn’t a whole lot that municipalities can do, except ban vaping in areas where smoking is already banned.

“We’re actually in a pretty good place from the point of view from where vaping is prohibited, it matches pretty closely where smoking is prohibited. That’s the main area of municipal responsibility here,” said Mackie, adding that the most impactful policy changes must be made at the provincial federal level to restrict or eliminate vaping advertising altogether.

“The main policy changes can be made at the provincial or federal level, it’s about restricting or eliminated advertising of vaping.”

The provincial government is moving to ban advertisements and promotion of vaping products at places like gas stations and convenience stores starting Jan. 1, 2020.

Since Ontario became the first province to have a reporting system for this sort of illness, there have been two new probable cases of vaping-related illness in Woodstock and Burlington.