London

Vaping industry insiders demand to know brand in London, Ont., teen's near-fatal illness

Despite pressure from vaping industry members, London, Ont.'s medical officer of health says he won't release the name of the brand used by a high school student who was on life-support after using a vaping device, the first such reported case linked to the practice in Canada. 

City's medical officer says brand doesn't matter since people are 'at risk regardless of what they're vaping'

Dr. Chris Mackie, medical officer and CEO of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit in Ontario, told a news conference last week that a teenager's respiratory illness was linked to vaping. The teen is now reportedly doing well. (Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press)

London, Ont.'s medical officer of health says he won't give in to vaping industry demands that he release the name of the brand used by a high school student who was on life-support after using a vaping device, the first such reported illness linked to the practice in Canada. 

Last week, Dr. Chris Mackie of the Middlesex-London Health Unit said the teenager's near-fatal respiratory illness was linked to vaping. During Wednesday's news conference, Mackie was asked what brand was used when the student fell ill, but Mackie refused to release the information.

Since then, industry insiders, including manufacturers and store owners, have written emails to Mackie — copying Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, a number of government health agencies and media outlets — demanding he release the name of the vaping product. 

But Mackie said Monday: "The reality is their customers are at risk regardless of what brand they are vaping. People are getting sick from vaping and it's not associated with one brand.

"Manufacturers and distributors want us to be believe this is some kind of bad actor. The reality is it seems to be more about the consumer, that certain people are more vulnerable. It does not appear to be a brand-related issue."

Industry members, however, are still intent on finding out the name of the brand used by the student.

"I am deeply concerned," Thomas Krisop, owner of Alternatives and Options Vaporizers and eLiquids, a vape store based in Morinville, Alta., told CBC News on Monday.

Thomas Krisop, the owner of Alternatives and Options Vaporizers and eLiquid based in Morinville, Alta., says he has customers who have returned to smoking after hearing about the London teen's illness. Industry members want to know the name of the brand used by the London teen, but medical officials in London won't release it. (Supplied)

"I have customers that have gone back to smoking. They're getting messages from their family members saying they should go back to smoking because smoking is better than vaping. Vaping will kill you."

Mackie offered to review Krisop's inventory list, and has since informed him his Alberta store does not carry the product linked to the teenager's illness. 

Now, others have sent their inventory lists to Mackie, wanting their products to be ruled out. 

'I'm concerned'

Among them is Charles Byram, the founder and CEO of Moncton, N.B.-based e-liquid manufacturer FOV Labs. 

"The reason I wrote to Dr. Mackie is because I'm concerned, I want to know what made people sick," he told CBC News on Monday. "If we keep that information away from the public, then we're not serving the public.

"Once we find out what it is, we can act upon it," he said, noting he believes his product is not linked to the London teen's respiratory illness. 

"I'm 100 per cent sure our products weren't sold in London."

Byram said Mackie should have clarified what product was behind the teen's illness so people aren't led to believe all vaping is a health risk. 

"When you keep that kind of information from the public, it tends to scare smokers away from choosing a healthier product," he said, adding "the term 'vaping' is being used very loosely."

Call from health coalition comes after officials announce first Canadian case believed to be linked to vaping. 2:03

In the United States, there have been hundreds of cases of respiratory illnesses linked to vaping and at least seven deaths.

Health officials said the London teen is reportedly doing well since his release from hospital.

Mackie said that when compared to smoking, which still kills 20 million people a year worldwide, vaping is relatively safe.

"You're setting the bar pretty low."

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca