COTTAGE COUNTRY, ON – With more vaping-related illnesses and deaths popping up across North America, doctors are worried about how many young people are taking part in the practice.

According to Dr. Charles Gardner, the medical officer of health with Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), the region’s youth were vaping at a higher rate than the rest of the province in 2015.

The doctor said there isn’t more recent data locally, but the national numbers saw youth vaping on a regular basis increase from just over eight per cent in 2017 to almost 15 per cent in 2018.

Gardner said last year also saw youth cigarette smoking increase.

“Now, the real concerning issue with the tobacco is that we have not seen increases in youth smoking in decades,” Gardner said. “A good 30 years of downward trending tobacco use in youth, so this kind of increase speaks to the concern that we have.”

The doctor said in the U.S. there have been over 1,000 cases of acute severe lung injuries related to vaping resulting in 18 deaths. He added while there have only been two confirmed cases in Canada, something needs to be done now before more start popping up.

The doctor has advice for parents on how to talk to their youth to try and get them to abstain, before it is too late.

“I think it is very important to be very open with your children and foster an open relationship of trust,” Gardner said. “Give good information from our website, Health Canada or a family physician about the potential for nicotine addiction.”

Gardner said perhaps the biggest concern with vaping is its high concentration of nicotine. He added there is actually more of the chemical in some vaping products than in cigarettes.

“It can lead to them becoming addicted to tobacco which has a lifelong impact on their health and wellbeing, not to mention [financial] costs,” Gardner said. “I would also raise the fact that they are being duped and deceived by the industry.”

The doctor said that research has shown today’s youth don’t want to think they are being taken advantage of by corporations.

“The fact vaping is very much on the upswing is due to marketing practices,” Gardner said.

When it comes to regulating vaping, the doctor said the health unit has filed a report to the board of health to ask the ministry to put the same marketing rules in place tobacco has.

Gardner said the illnesses started popping up while they were working on the report, which increased their level of concern.

“We don’t understand what’s happening with this issue,” Gardner said. “We don’t have a clear sense of exactly what vaping product is it responsible. In a  number of cases it has been a product that uses THC, but not in all of them.”

One thing the doctor says they do know is how serious the illness vaping causes can be. Gardner said it is being called lipoid pneumonia, which can come on suddenly and require people be put on a respirator in the Intensive Care Unit.

The doctor said it starts as increasingly severe shortness of breath along with coughing. X-rays, CT scans and bronchoscopies will show deposits of oils and glycerin in the lungs, both found in vaping products.

Gardner said in some cases the illness is caused by a youth switching to a different vaping product and can affect them within a day.

The doctor said it could take a while to pinpoint what vaping products cause the illness because each case needs to be investigated individually.