Letter to our Health Minister

September 12, 2019

Letter to our Health Minister

Mme. Petitpas Taylor,


I am writing with regards to the current lung disease cases in the United States, specifically how this health threat is being reported to the public by health officials (including yourself) and media alike. The general public is being led to believe that e-cigarettes are causing lung disease and even death but even a cursory attempt at research uncovers the fact that THC cartridges (and probably black market ones at that) are suspected to be the culprit involved. Indeed, that some publications in the United States were warning of this possibility ahead of the current crisis. The conflation of issues (e-cigarettes, a potentially life-saving technology for smokers, with black market THC cartridges) is not only flagrantly irresponsible but puts public health at risk. The public is not being properly informed as to the real risk and what to avoid, and they are being misled to suspect the wrong thing and many feel faced with the decision to return to smoking, or continue smoking. 


Mme. Petitpas Taylor, with respect, you have a duty to inform and protect the public health by providing them with accurate, up-to-date, concise information particularly in the midst of a health scare. Where media may be unclear as to what is at play, you must be clear. Yet just this past Friday I heard you interviewed on CBC’s Power and Politics and you yourself conflated the issues. You in one moment acknowledged the cases of lung disease and respiratory issues in the United States and on the other brought the subject back to needing to protect youth from the dangers of vaping (e-cigarettes) and everything the Canadian government is doing to prevent it. You had the opportunity to clarify that these two issues are separate and chose not to.


I can only assume that Health Canada is paying careful attention to what is happening with our neighbours to the south and the information available. You no doubt have heard that in most cases where a substance has been linked, it has been THC oil (and specifically vitamin E acetate, used as a diluent). (See FDA Consumer Warning for September 6, 2019, for example.) You’re also aware, no doubt, that reporting the use of using illicit drugs can carry repercussions in the United States and so where people are hesitant to report ‘what they are vaping’ it might be assumed that it is probably not the same legally sourced, quality controlled e-liquid used by Canadian and American ex-smokers who have shown no signs of illness. 


Health Canada’s statements (on the website) state that, “Many patients have reported vaping tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and/or nicotine-containing products.” And also that, “Canadians are reminded that the purchase of vaping products outside the legal market may create additional risk as these products are unregulated and potentially unsafe, and thereby pose a risk to health and safety.” Outside of those statements, there is the usual, “Vaping is not without risk, and the potential long-term effects of vaping remain unknown.” There is nothing that makes a clear separation between normal e-cigarette use and vaporizing THC oil, in general or as it pertains to the current news. You then go on to note, “If you are concerned about the health risks related to vaping, consider not using vaping products.”


Of course people are concerned, Minister. They are hearing and reading hysterical media reports on an hourly basis. I am personally hearing from people on a daily basis who have quit smoking by vaping and are now afraid to continue on, lest they die. They are considering (and in more than one case have decided) to return to smoking because it seems a less immediate threat. They know that smoking causes cancer over time but are hearing that vaping nicotine may kill them today. These people are not considering using nicotine gum, or patches- most have largely tried and failed in those attempts- they are looking at smoking as a less risky alternative. 


Others still are encouraging their vaping friends and family to give it up. Not out of malice but out of fear. And they too feel that smoking might be the preferable option if their loved one can’t quit cold turkey. (And they can’t, clearly, or they would have. They vape because quitting all together was either not possible or not desirable.) This is a health crisis as much as the one happening in the United States, albeit without the associated deaths- yet. Because smoking deaths occur over time. 


I, along with other concerned citizens- many of them vapers or involved in the vape industry, are trying to get good, credible information out to as many people possible as quickly as we can. Not only to prevent vapers returning to smoking (it’s largely a lost cause to try to convert smokers right now, in the midst of this maelstrom) but also to alert people to the very real threat of bad THC cartridges going around. Because those people matter too. But we are working at loggerheads with most mainstream media outlets and public health officials. That is a true shame. We cannot even begin to estimate the cost to public health and wellness. 


Just the other day, I was listening to a CBC afternoon radio show that started the hour talking about a new test to detect lung cancer early. Lung cancer, one of the most common types of cancer in Canada, largely linked to smoking. The very next segment warned of the dangers of vaping e-cigarettes and deaths in the United States. 


I can’t help but feel that if this were any other industry, the government would be out in front of it. If a batch of chocolate milk was found to be contaminated, and the public in an uproar over the dangers of dairy, you would no doubt have health officials reassuring the public that dairy in general was largely safe, that the issue was related to a particular batch of product, with information as to what product to avoid. This issue is even further removed because e-liquid as related to e-cigarettes is not even in the same industry as cannabis oil. And yet e-cigarettes are receiving the lion’s share of blame and attention. 


Who will be held to account when there is a rise in smoking rates following this public health scare? Worse still, if it is accompanied by yet more deaths due to people continuing to purchase THC cartridges they were not clearly warned to be on guard for? When there is clear evidence that information was available but was not clearly communicated to the public, will anyone be held to account? 


I expect more from this Liberal government. You proudly proclaim principles that align with principles held by the vaping industry and community. The principle of harm reduction. The principle of bodily autonomy. And the principle of faith in scientific and technological progress. We are in the midst of an election cycle where you will no doubt herald these principles. I expect to see them applied across the board, not as they suit. 


And at this time I hope that we, the public, can expect Health Canada and all our public health officials to make clear, concise statements with regards to what is happening in the United States. I implore you to consider the consequences, short and long term, of not doing so. The United States seems in the midst of a moral panic that is being used to enact wrong-headed restrictions and punitive measures whilst ignoring real risks and the public health. I hope that we can expect more from our own government. I always have.

I look forward to your response.


With best regards,


Brandee Eubank

 

cc

Marilyn Gladu

Don Davies

Elizabeth May





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