The Ministry of Health and Welfare has recommended smokers who use e-cigarettes to refrain from using their devices until it completes investigation into the relationship between the liquid-type e-cigarettes and lung diseases.
The notice comes after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced plans to ban the sale of liquid-type e-cigarettes, which are popular among teenagers, due to growing controversy over health hazards.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 530 confirmed severe lung diseases, and eight deaths in the U.S. related to the use of liquid-type e-cigarettes as of last Thursday. Due to growing concerns, Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the United States, has decided to stop selling e-cigarette products.
The problem is not limited to the U.S. In Canada, the numbers of patients also continue to grow with two-thirds of smokers being between 18 and 34 years old.
While Korea has had no reported cases of lung diseases related to liquid-type e-cigarettes, the health ministry plans to conduct its investigation.
"After coordinating with the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS), we will conduct a full-scale investigation for the ingredient analysis of liquid-type e-cigarettes," a health and welfare ministry official said.
The official stressed that if the situation is proved to be serious in Korea as it is with the U.S. or if it discovers that liquid pods are the cause of severe lung disease, the government may revoke its sales license.
The ministry also plans to launch a response team, which will comprehensively analyze the results of monitoring domestic severe lung disease patients and the additional measures taken by foreign countries.
If the situation intensifies, the team will prepare strong additional measures such as a sales ban.
To this end, the food and drug safety ministry said that it is analyzing the harmful components of the liquid e-cigarettes with the results expected to come out in June next year.
In Korea, the e-cigarettes industry is growing rapidly regardless of burn- or liquid-type.
The burn-type e-cigarettes accounted for only 0.2 percent of total cigarette sales at the time of its launch two years ago, but it has surged to 11.5 percent in the second quarter of this year. In the case of liquid form, it is growing steeply from 0.8 percent in May, the first month of its release, to 1.3 percent in June.
However, the cigarette industry expects that the issue is unlikely to affect the tobacco industry as the shares for the liquid-type e-cigarettes are low.
Local liquid-type e-cigarettes distributors have also drawn a line by saying that the products marketed in Korea do not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or vitamin E compounds, which are assumed to be the cause of the lung disease in the U.S.
Although U.S. investigators have not yet pinpointed a single substance or product for the recent illnesses, they have collected response from patients who said they used e-cigarettes with THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
The investigators also announced that the most common similarities between the reported cases were street-purchased THC oil that contained vitamin E acetate.
"THC and vitamin E acetate, which have been identified as the cause of severe lung disease in U.S. liquid e-cigarette users, are not used in the locally marketed Juul products," a Juul Labs Korea official said to a local outlet.
Juul is one of the leading local distributors of liquid-type e-cigarettes.
"We believe that some smokers used liquid pods containing illegal elements that were not produced by our company," the official noted.
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