The growing number of deaths induced by e-cigarettes should be a cause of worry for the Nigerian government. As of Wednesday, October 23, 2019, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States reported 33 deaths attributable to vaping and the outbreak of a mysterious lung illness that has affected about 1,479 persons so far.
The ages of those who died ranged from 17 to 75 years. Many of those that are ill are reported to have vaped THC – the acronym for Tetrahydrocannabinol (the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis) – while some used both THC and nicotine, and others nicotine only.
In the United Kingdom, a factory worker who died got pneumonia caused by oil from an e-cigarette in his lungs. The oil is believed to be vitamin E acetate, which is commonly used as a nutritional supplement and in skin-care products and not harmful when ingested or applied to the skin.
Health officials, however, warn that Vitamin E acetate is hazardous when inhaled, potentially causing the sorts of symptoms many patients have reported, which includes coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain.
The deaths have triggered apprehension among parents and stoked calls for the US government to take action. President Donald Trump said he plans to ban e-cigarette flavors that seem specially designed to appeal to young people and get them addicted.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has equally urged everyone to “stop vaping” immediately and has banned flavored tobacco products in Los Angeles County. In late September, the government of India also banned the sale of e-cigarettes in emergency legislation. Included in that ban were heat-not-burn devices like the IQOS, which is now being vigorously promoted by Philip Morris International (PMI).
Such decisive actions make one ponder why Nigeria, the largest tobacco market on the continent and a major target of the tobacco industry is yet to make a bold statement and take decisive action to ban e-cigarettes.
It is anticipated that the Federal Ministry of Health which has two tobacco control champions – the Minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire and Minister of State, Senator Olorunimbe Mamora as their helmsmen must take a lead in ensuring Nigeria leads in preventing the likelihood of vaping deaths in Nigeria as an example to other African nations.
Public health groups such as the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) have however taken the lead in demanding that the Federal Government brings its full hammer on e-cigarettes and other tobacco products currently being sold in Nigeria without some form of regulation.
Agencies like the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council (FCCPC), formerly Consumer Protection Council (CPC, which has carried out enforcement raids on lounges, bars and dark spots where shisha and other tobacco products are openly sold must now extend its dragnet to online marketing companies that deliver shisha and other deadly products to consumers on demand.
We must not wait for our ever-experimenting youths to have their jaws blown out while toying with E-cigarettes before we scramble for a response. This is particularly important as our youth have unfettered access to the internet where this deadly product is portrayed as hype and is not inhibited from making online purchases that can be delivered to their doorsteps even without their guardians’ knowledge or consent.
• Ukamaka Eguonu is a public health commentator based in Enugu