Quebec resident confirmed as first Canadian case of vaping-related illness

A Quebec resident has been diagnosed with Canada's first case of a severe vaping-related breathing illness, federal health officials have confirmed.

Patient is in their 50s and had been vaping a few months as a way to quit smoking

A man is seen vaping.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported symptoms of vaping-related illness include cough, chest pain, nausea and fatigue. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

A Quebec resident has been diagnosed with Canada's first case of a severe vaping-related breathing illness, federal officials have confirmed.

"In this case, it does meet the criteria, and yes it is considered the first vaping-related illness [in Canada] related to what's happening in the States," said Maryse Durette, senior media relations adviser for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The patient, a person in their 50s who lives in Montreal, was recently admitted to hospital with breathing problems.

The person had been vaping for a few months as a way to quit smoking, said Dr. Mylène Drouin, director of public health for the Montreal region.

Drouin said the product the person was using is legally sold in Canada and contained only nicotine, but would not give any other details.

In Canada, the definition of a vaping-related severe pulmonary illness case includes the following criteria:

  • Symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, with or without vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever.
  • History of vaping or dabbing (using THC concentrates like oil or wax) 90 days prior to symptom onset.
  • Pulmonary infiltrate, which is a substance denser than air, such as pus, blood, or protein in the lungs.
  • Negative results on tests for a lung infection.
  • No evidence in medical records of alternative plausible diagnoses.

Anyone who has used an e-cigarette or vaping products, and has experienced these symptoms is advised to consult a health-care professional.

Last week, officials in Ontario reported a teenager was put on life-support after using a vaping device. However, that case has not yet been confirmed under the federal definition. 

Durette said federal officials are aware of a handful of other events across the country and right now, they are considered as "incidents under investigation." 

In the U.S., there have been more than 800 cases and 13 deaths.

Drouin said people who switched to vaping to cut down on smoking cigarettes should not go back to cigarettes. But she also raised concerns about the risks of vaping.

"The message to the population, and to clinicians, is that there are other products, smoking cessation programs, and products that are already approved and safe ... and those products should be the first choice for those who want to quit smoking," she said.

'Vaping is not without risk'

Two weeks ago, Quebec's Health Ministry issued a warning about the risks of developing a pulmonary illness as a result of vaping.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, provincial director of public health, said what they know is there is a link between the illness and people who vape.

Dr. Mylène Drouin, left, public health director for Montreal, and Dr. Horacio Arruda, provincial public health director, say people who have never vaped shouldn't start. (Radio-Canada)

But because there are different models of e-cigarettes, and different vaping products, it is unclear whether the issue is with a specific company or product.

They stress that anyone who doesn't already smoke or who has never used an e-cigarette shouldn't start now.

"Vaping is not without risk, and its long-term effects aren't yet known," Arruda said. 

Daniel Marien, spokesperson for the Vaping Industry Trade Association (VITA), said he welcomes the investigation into the illness.

"I want the public to know what the problem is with that specific person, and any case that [is] related to vaping, they have to dig in to see what the cause of it is," he said.

He said his message to the federal government is that it should keep looking into the illness, but should not "take drastic actions based on assumptions."

A group of Canadian health organizations recently called on the federal parties to regulate the e-cigarette and vaping industry.

With files from Amina Zafar and Lauren McCallum