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Panacea to epidemic

It's been a month since a vaping-related respiratory illness claimed its first life in the U.S., and since then similar cases have exploded across our neighbour to the south

Why is society playing catchup with the dangers of vaping?

Let’s see ... invent a product, a very convenient product, that can vaporize oil and sell it as a cigarette smoking cessation tool, available in a convenience store near you. What could possibly go wrong?

The introduction of vaping was about as well thought out as our prime minister’s decisions to paint his face black. In a drive for profits, vaping companies raised huge sums, some from cigarette manufacturers, and entered the race for all-important market share. Touted as a healthy alternative to cigarettes, vaping was regarded as a panacea. Today it is an epidemic.

It's been a month since a vaping-related respiratory illness claimed its first of at least five lives in the U.S. Since then, similar cases have exploded across that country. Now, several instances of potential vaping illnesses are being investigated in Canada, a critical reminder of how harmful this activity can be.

In response, Alberta Health has introduced new rules requiring doctors to report cases of vaping-related lung disease. AHS is also set to review vaping regulations in November.

In the midst of the reviews, Canada is preparing to legalize new cannabis products next month, including liquid concentrates for vaping – a hugely popular category in U.S. states that have also legalized cannabis. Additionally, Canada's black market for vaping products is estimated to be worth $1 billion, according to Cannabis Council of Canada board chair Megan McCrae. Even the most casual observation reveals a huge vaping uptake in our youth. Many of the products linked to the U.S. illnesses thrive on that black market.

This month, the American Medical Association joined in the call against vaping.

"The e-cigarette-related lung illnesses currently sweeping across the country reaffirm our belief that the use of e-cigarettes and vaping is an urgent public health epidemic that must be addressed," president Patrice A. Harris said in a statement.

While vaping may be a less harmful alternative overall to smoking cigarettes, it should not be mistaken for being a healthy activity. Even before the recent spate of illnesses, Kevin Burns, the CEO of e-cigarette company Juul, was warning people away from his company's very addictive products.

Burns issued a public apology in July to parents of teens who are addicted to Juul vapes. In August, he told CBS people should not use Juul – or any nicotine product – unless they already have an addiction.

The message is loud and clear: if you haven't started smoking or vaping, don't. While the hazards of smoking cigarettes have been made common knowledge, the potentially deadly harms of vaping are only just being discovered. Our health officials are still scratching the surface of the impacts of vaping and our legislation has yet to catch up with a quickly changing market. Even legislation won't rein in Canada's profitable black market where many of these products reside.

As uncertainty swirls around these products, and we await action from our lawmakers, there is one clear way to avoid the risks: take Burns' advice and don't vape.