Health authorities in Australia and overseas are questioning the potentially serious dangers of vaping after a second death in the United States was found to be linked to e-cigarettes.
The unnamed Oregon state victim who died in July had recently vaped products containing cannabis bought at a dispensary, authorities revealed on Wednesday.
The death follows the first vaping-related death, reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health last month, amid a growing number of similar lung illnesses across the US.
Reports of the latest fatality comes as a newly-released study shows most Australians are misinformed about the health risks associated with e-cigarettes.
Vaping is a type of smoking where the user inhales vapour created by a battery-operated electronic cigarette that heats a liquid, usually containing nicotine, flavour and other chemicals.
Nearly two-thirds of Australians believed e-cigarettes were less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, according to research by the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol & other Drugs (APSAD).
However, Cancer Council Australia has warned there was not enough evidence to confirm if e-cigarettes were indeed safe, with the council’s Tobacco Issues Committee chair Libby Jardine saying a growing body of research showed the devices were harmful to human health.
“E-cigarettes have been found to contain ingredients such as heavy metals so we know they can damage lungs, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and even possibly cancer,” Ms Jardine told The New Daily.
“There is also insufficient evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are effective in supporting people to quit smoking because if you’re trying to get off nicotine then using e-cigarettes could hinder those efforts.”
In all Australian states and territories except Western Australia, it is legal to sell and buy vaping devices without nicotine in them.
Unless prescribed by a doctor, it is against the law to buy nicotine-laced vaping products in Australia, though many users say it is easy to work around this ban by buying the devices online.
The most common reasons Australians gave in the study for using vapes were ‘as a substitute for smoking tobacco’ (41.4 per cent), ‘it is safer than smoking tobacco’ (40 per cent), ‘to quit smoking’ (31 per cent) and ‘to cut down the number of cigarettes I smoke’ (26.2 per cent).
Ms Jardine said she feared an increasing number of young people were picking up e-cigarettes as vaping becomes more popular among influencers on social media.
Hashtags such as #vapenation and #vapetricks on Instagram reveal millions of videos of young people showing off with e-cigarettes.
New vape flavours, such as pancake or Mars Bar, were likely targeted at young people, Ms Jardine said.
“Research shows young people are more likely to take up tobacco smoking if they use e-cigarettes,” she said.
“Nicotine is highly addictive, so it’s going to keep them using these products.”
Smoking tobacco is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Australia, says Cancer Council Australia.
Meanwhile in the US, more than 200 vapers have reported suffering similar symptoms to the person who recently died in Oregon, including coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and difficulty breathing.
As of August 27, there were 215 cases of severe respiratory disease in 25 US states since late June, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported.