N.B. teen warns of vaping hazards after allegedly coughing up blood
A Saint John, N.B. teenager is warning others about the hazards of vaping, after what she calls a terrifying incident that led to her coughing up blood.
“I didn’t even make it to the toilet, I made it to the garbage can and just started coughing up blood, like crazy amounts,” recalls Caroline Asimakos.
The 18-year-old student at the University of New Brunswick Saint John recounts the moments before she took a now viral photo depicting what she says are the risk associated with vaping.
Asimakos says she grew up in an athletic household.
“I’ve always done ski racing, downhill racing. Tennis was a big thing for me and I would go to tennis academy’s throughout middle school and high school.”
It was three years ago at one of those tennis academy’s in Florida where Asimakos first started using a popular product called Juuls, known to contain higher concentrations of nicotine than other e-cigarettes.
A few weeks ago, Asimakos said she noticed something was wrong.
“I couldn’t breathe at all, I was coughing, I just couldn’t do anything,” recalls Asimakos. “I was just looking at my friends and it was just, tears, that’s all I could do. It was terrifying.”
She says she took two trips to the ER for X-Rays and various testing which revealed nothing, with doctors saying she likely had a viral infection and needed rest.
But on September 19th, the situation got genuinely scary.
“I was up all night coughing, like spitting up gross stuff. It was not normal, I was not okay,” explains Asimakos.
She was in class at UNBSJ when she experienced yet another coughing fit sending her running to the bathroom where she noticed significant blood.
Asimakos snapped the picture showing blood everywhere, the teen shared the photo with friends to show them what she calls the negative, potentially deadly side-effects to vaping.
The photo of the graphic aftermath has gone viral after it was tweeted by a cousin of Asimakos’ friend named Olivia Guerra.
“I didn't want this problem to happen to other people,” said Guerra who does not smoke or vape. “It makes me feel sick because with cigarettes before, people then had no idea what was going to happen it took years for them to find out what was going to happen.”
Guerra spread the image in a tweet; which has since been liked more than 80,000 times and retweeted by another 60,000 users.
Asimakos says after the tweet went viral, New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer Jennifer Russell reached out to her, in hopes that she would take part in official testing to rule out all other possible illnesses, and link her recent conditions to vaping alone.
Asimakos says she has also received a lot of negative comments on social media, many doubting that vaping could have caused her to cough up blood.
“They don’t want to believe it. They don’t want to believe that what they love, that their addiction is bad for them, but you need to wake up. You really need to wake up,” says Asimakos.
The vaping product company responded Friday, October 4 to the concerns raised by Asimakos.
Lisa Hutniak, a spokesperson for JUUL Labs Canada says vaping items shown in the story, including the device and e-liquid, were not JUUL products and that their products are non-refillable.
In a statement, she also says: "JUUL was only legally available for sale to adults starting September 2018 and is made for adult smokers looking to switch from combustible cigarettes, never youth or non-smokers. Illegal, counterfeit, copycats, and compatibles, which may be made with unknown ingredients and under unknown standards, represent a major concern to public health and must stay out of the market. This report reaffirms the need to keep all tobacco and nicotine products out of the hands of youth through significant actions and regulation on access and enforcement."
Health Canada has recently expressed concerns about the potential risk of pulmonary illness associated with vaping products.
"In the wake of the recent cases of severe pulmonary illnesses and a number of deaths reportedly linked to the use of vaping products in the United States, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada provided national guidance to the provinces and territories on identifying cases of severe pulmonary illness related to vaping or e-cigarette use in Canada."
The medical warning added, "the Province of Quebec has notified the Public Health Agency of Canada of a confirmed case of severe pulmonary illness related to vaping products. This is the first confirmed case in Canada. This follows the report out of the Middlesex-London Health Unit in Ontario of another possible case. At this time, the Middlesex-London incident is not considered confirmed as it is still under investigation and has not been officially reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada by the Province of Ontario."
Maritime Health Officials say stories like Caroline’s are troubling.
“The narrative is definitely one that we should worry about, and vaping is definitely not harmless,” says Mohammed Al-Hamdani, the Director of Health Initiatives with the Nova Scotia Lung Association. “We should always be looking at restrictive policy and once again for youngsters, especially those who don’t smoke, they should really stay away from these products.”
Caroline's father Peter Asimakos said he’s seen what the products have done to his daughter and fears if they continue to be marketed to young adults, lives are at risk.
“These kids cannot have access to these products as easy as they do and they shouldn’t have access at all,” said Asimakos from his home in New Brunswick. “If this is intended to make adults get off tobacco cigarettes, then they should be sold in drug stores behind the counter.”
His daughter said while she may not be of legal age to use the product, “it's easy to get them, if you have money you can ask people to get them.”
Asimakos said she is recovering and has tossed her JUUL in the trash.
“I will never smoke anything again, I’m done.”
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Eilish Bonang and staff at CTV News Ottawa.
Editor's note: This story was updated on Friday, Oct. 4 to include the statement from JUUL Labs Canada.