Amid the vaping crisis in parts of the United States, the Ministry of Health and Wellness is considering a ban on the practice before the trend becomes too commonplace in Jamaica, especially among high school students.
Similar to measures some American states have taken — where vaping has been blamed for a number of deaths — Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton indicated that Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie has been tasked with scrutinising data coming out of the United States.
Tufton, who was speaking in Montego Bay over the weekend, said the ministry’s decision will come after the most-severe possible outcomes are assessed and considered.
“We are very concerned and we have been observing very closely the information coming out of the US, both at the federal and the state levels, where vaping is becoming very common and is now being suspected for a number of deaths, and as a consequence a number of states have taken the position to ban the practice,” Tufton told journalists.
“I have asked the chief medical officer in the ministry to examine the reports that are coming out of those jurisdictions and to assess the clinical side of that information with the intention of, in the worst-case scenario, doing similar to what was announced in terms of a ban, but at least if not, for the time being, offering an advisory or warning to those who offer this particular type of product or practice,” Tufton explained.
He also expressed concern that vaping — the inhaling of a vapour created by an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) or other devices — is becoming common among secondary school students.
“The other concern as it relates to vaping for us is among the younger population because it is becoming a common practice in our high schools. We have heard and seen and gotten evidence of a number of cases,” the minister argued.
Getting MOEYI involved
Tufton said that his ministry intends to forge a partnership with the Ministry of Education to address the issue of vaping in schools.
“The ministry is looking at that, with the intention of having discussions with the Ministry of Education to see what extent the protocols within the schools can be adjusted to monitor more closely the possibility of the practice taking place, and take whatever action necessary to stamp it out. But it is a major concern — I am certainly concerned about it. And as you know, from a public health perspective we do not support any form of smoking,” Tufton said.
America’s death toll rising
The death toll in the United States from illnesses linked to e-cigarette use has risen to at least 19, health authorities said a week ago, and more than 1,000 people have suffered lung injuries probably linked to vaping.
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention has confirmed 18 deaths in 15 states. The number of patients now positively linked to vaping stands at 1,080 cases of people sickened — a jump of 275 since the week before last.
Connecticut officials also announced the first death in the state, bringing the total to at least 19.
The CDC attributes the sharp increase to a combination of new patients becoming ill in the past two weeks and recent reporting of previously identified patients. Officials have yet to identify the cause for the outbreak, which dates back to March, and are pursuing multiple lines of investigation, according to a report from Agence France Presse (AFP).