Calls for Swiss register of e-cigarette disease 

As cases of vaping-related disease rise in the US, a first suspected case has been reported in Switzerland. Keystone

Swiss lung doctors are calling for a register of suspected vaping-related illness after a first suspected case was reported in Switzerland. The issue has gained global attention in recent weeks as the number of fatalities rises among electronic cigarette smokers in the United States.  

This content was published on September 25, 2019 - 15:39
SRF/jc

A 44-year-old asthmatic woman who was a big e-cigarette user was hospitalised in the Swiss city of Winterthur in January with serious respiratory problems, according to a report by Swiss television SRF. She was admitted as an emergency case with “severe shortness of breath, sputum and very, very poor lung function at the slightest strain,” according to the attendant lung doctor Macé Schuurmans. Asked if the case was similar to cases in the US of e-cigarette related illness, he told SRF that “our patient meets most of the criteria”.  

The patient was lucky as she was treated early, and her life is no longer in danger, according to the SRF report issued this week.  

In the US, there have been hundreds of cases of severe lung damage and nine deaths linked to use of E-cigarettes. It is not yet clear which ingredients make e-cigarettes dangerous for some people. Some US states have banned them in the meantime.   

"The big problem is the variety of substances and liquids on the market," David Vernaz, an occupational and environmental hygienist, told SRF. "Studies have to be done very systematically, it takes time and money, and an authority has to commission them".  

Another issue is that Switzerland does not have a national register in which suspected cases are documented. The Federal Office of Public Health sees this as an obligation for the cantons, reports SRF.  

Swiss lung doctors are keen to centralise the data. The Association of Lung Physicians is planning its own effort to get a grip on the risks of electronic cigarette smoking.  "We will ask all colleagues in the emergency departments and all lung physicians to report any cases to the Toxinfo Poisoning Centre,” says the association’s president Laurent Nicod.  

On Thursday, the Swiss parliament will resume discussions on a revised draft law on tobacco. The main points in the original draft include a nationwide ban on the sale of tobacco products to people under 18 and regulations on electronic cigarettes and tobacco products for heating.   

Previous attempts by parliament to tighten the tobacco law have come up against a bloc of right-of-centre parliamentarians fearful of the economic consequences. Many international tobacco companies have a strong presence in Switzerland. Among them are Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco International and British American Tobacco.  

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