Cayman Islands health leaders are urging the public to abstain from using e-cigarettes or vaporisers on the heels of a series of illnesses and deaths in the United States.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Food and Drug Administration are investigating a multi-state outbreak of lung disease associated with e-cigarette products, according to the CDC website. The CDC recommends the public refrain from using those products.

“The Cayman Islands Health Services Authority is therefore urging all persons in the Cayman Islands to adhere to the recommendations of the CDC,” the HSA said in a press release. The release did not cite any cases of similar illnesses attributed to vaporiser use in the Cayman Islands.

“It is a good thing because awareness needs to be created about what’s going on,” said Paradise Vapors owner Joseph Hurlston, who runs one of two retail shops in Cayman that sell vaporisers and e-liquids. “I want the truth to really be out there, like what products are really causing harm and what are they doing about it?”

The US investigation centres around 380 possible cases of severe lung injury believed to be caused by e-cigarette use in 33 states, as well as six deaths believed to involve cannabis.

“I’m not against regulations,” Hurlston said. “I’m not against the rules, because they do need to find what is good for us and what is not good for us.”

The FDA began regulating electronic nicotine systems in 2016, according to the organisation’s website. Most patients at the heart of the investigation reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, while only some reported the use of e-cigarette products containing only nicotine. Several media reports have pointed to black market THC cartridges as a possible cause in states where similar products cannot be purchased legally.

Paradise Vapors owner Joseph Hurlston exhales after using a vaping product. He welcomes the HSA’s call for the public to refrain from using similar products while US agencies investigate a spate of illnesses believed to be connected with e-cigarette and vaporiser use. – Photos: Kevin Morales

“There are people doing it on island,” Hurlston said of producing black market vaping liquids. “People should be concerned about counterfeit stuff. Why? Because you don’t know what people are using to make it. You don’t know where they’re making it, how they’re making it.”

National Drug Council research analyst Luisa McLaughlin says there is also concern about the age of those using vape products.

“The trends have shown an increase in these kind of behaviours,” McLaughlin said.

Nearly one-third of Cayman Islands students polled in a 2018 NDC drug use survey said they have used e-cigarette products in their lifetime. No statistics exist at the NDC to show how many adults in Cayman use vaping products.

“We are worried about the situation,” McLaughlin said, adding that many students get the products from older friends and family.

US President Donald Trump recently said he planned to remove flavoured e-cigarettes from the market. Several state governors have voiced support for a crackdown on the products.

Hurlston, however, said it’s important to not lump all vaporiser products together and said more research is needed as the CDC’s website states the ongoing investigation has not yet identified a specific product or substance linked to all illnesses.

“Vaping is becoming the new norm,” he said. “The industry is still growing and I’m here to stay. So we’re just gonna work through what’s going on and if anything does come to light, I’m always the first one … wanting to make sure I’m doing things the right way, the legal way.”

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