A recent upsurge in lung diseases attributed to the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and deaths resulting from those illnesses, has raised concerns among health authorities in Barbados. But at least one local retailer is assuring Barbadians that the products they offer are completely legal.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY, Matthew Clarke of the West Indian Vapour Company admitted that a growing number of Barbadians were taking up the practice, but it was nowhere near as prevalent as it is in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Referring to the spate of respiratory tract illnesses, which have resulted in at least seven deaths in the United States linked to the practice, which is more familiarly known as vaping, Clarke said, “When people were admitted to hospital with breathing complications attributed to vaping, on closer investigation it was found that 85 percent of them said they had used THC (cannabis-based) products made with Vitamin E acetate, which they would likely have obtained from illicit suppliers off the streets rather than registered dispensaries.”
This product is used as a thickening agent in the liquid, but while it is safe for use as a skin lotion or as a supplement, it has a boiling point of 455 degrees fahrenheit, and should not be inhaled. When inhaled, Clarke said, “It kills the lung cells, causing respiratory distress. Generally speaking, the liquids use vegetable glycerine, which is a USP
approved product that so far has not been proven to cause any long-term adverse effects.”
According to Clarke and Community Programme Officer with the National Council of Substance Abuse Makeada Bourne vaping was initially conceived as a means to help wean long-time cigarette smokers off their nicotine addiction. Clarke admitted that it did work for him in that respect.
“I started smoking in my teens, and I found that by the time I was 25, I was struggling to breathe. I tried the nicotine gum, nicotine patches, tried to quit ‘cold turkey’, everything, and those methods did not work. I switched to the vapouriser and I became free overnight. And I can safely say that I can feel the difference in my breathing as a result.”
Clarke, who established the business in 2016, said his company always remained proactive and adhered firmly to the laws of Barbados. Citing an example, he explained, “From the time we opened, which was before the Health Amendment Act 2017 that banned the sale of vaping products to minors, people under the age of 18 were not allowed to enter our store, and we printed warning labels on the bottles of liquid we produced from the very beginning.”
He said he does not sell THC-based products, and to his knowledge, none of the other locally-based companies in his industry do either, since marijuana is still an illegal commodity on the island. Nevertheless, “Where there is a buyer, there is a seller, so I would not be surprised if these products are available here. I would urge people to be careful, though, because in the countries and states where the drug is legal, the THC-based liquids sold at dispensaries have gone through the necessary testing to ensure they do not contain harmful substances.”
Bourne said the NCSA discusses vaping in its ongoing drug education programmes and has found that young people are quite familiar with the practice and its associated paraphernalia.
“Since it is a relatively new fad, we find that children are more aware of it than adults, and they know the various brands and so on. As with all other drugs, children first learn about them through their friends, relatives and other people close to them.”
Given that some vaping liquids contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, which may be supplemented with other harmful chemicals, Bourne advised Barbadians to be careful since there was no way of knowing what type of liquid an e-cigarette or vaping device contained.
Clarke issued a word of warning as well: “If you have never smoked in your life, I would not suggest you take up vaping, because while it is not as dangerous as conventional cigarettes, it is not completely harmless.”
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