In this April 23, 2014 file photo, a man smokes an electronic cigarette in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

U.S. vaping concerns loom as Canada legalizes pot devices

Deaths in the U.S. linked to vaping may dampen demand for cannabis vapes in Canada

A wave of illnesses and deaths in the U.S. linked to vaping products may dampen demand for soon-to-be-legal cannabis vapes in Canada later this year, industry watchers say.

An ongoing vaping probe south of the border — where as many as five people have died and hundreds more have fallen ill — may slow sales growth in what has been one of the fastest growing categories in the industry, said Jennifer Lee, Deloitte Canada’s Cannabis national leader.

“It’s going to create some hesitation in the market,” she said in an interview. However, new users are more likely to be deterred than smokers who are looking to shift to reduced-risk products, Lee added.

READ MORE: Vaping linked to cannabis use in young people, study finds

A growing number of health and regulatory authorities in recent days have urged consumers to stop vaping until it is clear what the root cause is.

The U.S. investigation could present a hindrance, or an opportunity, for the sector, depending on the ultimate conclusion, said Michael Armstrong, an associate business professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.

“It’s an opportunity for the legal producers to say, ‘OK, look, our products are tested. We have consistent manufacturing processes.’… Whereas with black market products, who knows what got put into those cartridges,” he said.

READ MORE: Cannabis companies want to bring a new mood to the workplace

But if vaping itself triggers the problem, rather than a particular additive, “that would be a much bigger problem for the Canadian cannabis industry.”

The string of mysterious, in some cases fatal, lung illnesses linked to vaping in the U.S. comes as Canada prepares to legalize new categories of cannabis products, including liquid concentrates for vaping, later this year.

Cannabis vaporization is gaining popularity as a more discreet way to consume pot and, similar to tobacco vapes, as a less harmful option that smoking a joint.

According to 2018 figures in U.S. states which had legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use, these devices were the second-largest category of sales at 21 per cent, behind flower at 46 per cent and ahead of edibles at 11 per cent, according to Deloitte.

In anticipation of a similar demand in Canada, several Canadian cannabis companies have struck vaping deals in recent months.

In July, Vancouver-based Auxly Cannabis Group Inc. announced it received a $123-million investment and the global licences to vaping technology under a research and development partnership with tobacco giant Imperial Brands.

And in June, U.S. vape maker Pax Labs Inc. struck a partnership with four Canadian licensed producers — Aphria, Aurora Cannabis, Organigram and Supreme Cannabis — to allow them to offer their cannabis concentrates in pods that work with their devices.

But on Monday, the American Medical Association was the latest health authority to sound the alarm on vaping, urging people to avoid using the products until more information is known.

“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,” said the association’s president Patrice A. Harris in a statement.

Health Canada last week warned of potential risk of pulmonary illness associated with vaping and urged users to monitor themselves for symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and chest pain but said there were no cases in the country to date.

In the U.S., there have been at least 450 possible cases of respiratory illnesses linked to vaping, including at least five deaths, this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that “many” of these patients reported recent use of products containing THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, a compound found in cannabis that produces a high and urged consumers to steer clear of vaping until their probe is complete.

The CDC told reporters that some laboratories have identified Vitamin E acetate in some of the product samples, which will be further examined, but at this stage ”no one device, product or substance has been linked to all cases.”

READ MORE: Canadian officials monitor reports of vaping-linked illnesses in the U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration said many of the samples tested contain THC and Vitamin E acetate, a substance found in topical and dietary supplements. The FDA said it does not have enough information to conclude that this substance is the culprit, but also advised against vaping for now.

“Because consumers cannot be sure whether any THC vaping products may contain Vitamin E acetate, consumers are urged to avoid buying vaping products on the street, and to refrain from using THC oil or modifying/adding any substances to products purchased in stores,” it said.

Even when legal options are available, many consumers turn to illicit market vendors lured by price, or convenience.

For example, the latest survey figures from Statistics Canada show that four in 10 pot buyers say they are shopping at illegal sources — months after Canada legalized cannabis flower, seeds and plants in October.

Megan McCrae, the board chair of the Cannabis Council of Canada, said the U.S. reports are “disturbing” but appear to be linked to cutting agents, notably used in the illegal market.

There is always a risk that perceived health risks, whether founded or not, may have a negative impact, she said, but it is unclear whether this will impact industry vape sales in Canada.

The illicit vape market in Canada is estimated to be worth roughly $1-billion, she added.

“Most of these issues coming out of the U.S. are related to black market product and what black market producers are doing to cut corners… This could hopefully help bolster legal channels,” said McCrae, who is Aphria’s vice-president of marketing but was speaking on behalf of the council.

Health Canada said the use of vitamins, as well as colouring and sweetening agents, are prohibited from use in cannabis vaping products, which will be available for sale in mid-December at the earliest.

“Inhalation poses potential health risks because of the greater sensitivity and vulnerability of pulmonary tissue to certain chemicals,” said spokesman Andre Gagnon in an emailed statement. “For this reason, some of the regulatory requirements pertaining to inhalable cannabis extracts, such as vaping products, are even more stringent.”

Armina Ligaya, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Health official warns school district about vaping

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Saanich allows retail sale of recreational cannabis for specific zones

Amendments to the 2003 bylaw allows retail sale of recreational cannabis in Saanich

Saanich seeks contractors for Shelbourne Street upgrade project

The three-phase project is expected to begin in 2020

PHOTOS: West Shore students rally for 10,000 Tonight food drive

Students, community members gather, sort food donations

Food truck pilot program in Saanich parks gets the green light from council

Pilot program will see food trucks permited in certain parks as early as next summer

Cannabis cultivation: Former North Saanich chicken farm goes into pot

North Saanich would join a small, growing number of communities with marijuana growing

VIDEO: Octopus, bald eagle battle after bird ‘bites off more than it can chew’ in B.C. waters

B.C. crew films fight between the two feisty animals in Quatsino off north Vancouver Island

Raptors fans show Kawhi the love in his return to Toronto

Leonard receives championship ring, leads new club to win

POLL: Do you have a real or artificial Christmas tree?

The lights are up, holiday shoppers are bustling through the streets and… Continue reading

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of Dec. 10

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Process to identify those killed in Gabriola plane crash could take days

Canadian flight museum suggests Alex Bahlsen of Mill Bay died in Tuesday’s crash

One man dead after car crash in Nanaimo

One person died, another was injured in the accident which happened Wednesday on Nanaimo Lakes Road

‘Honest mistake:’ RCMP says B.C. cannabis shop can keep image of infamous Mountie

Sam Steele wearing military, not RCMP uniform in image depicted in Jimmy’s Cannabis window

B.C. conservation officers put down fawn blinded by pellet gun on Vancouver Island

Young deer found near construction site in Hammond Bay area in Nanaimo, B.C.

Laid-off forest workers converge on B.C. legislature

Loggers call for action on strike, provincial stumpage

Most Read