Canadian diplomats hit by Cuba illness feel ‘abandoned’ -paper

People wait to enter the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, in this September 29, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 November 2018

Canadian diplomats hit by Cuba illness feel ‘abandoned’ -paper

  • US and Cuban officials met at the State Department in September to discuss the mysterious health problems

OTTAWA: A group of Canadian diplomats who left the embassy in Cuba after suffering unusual health symptoms say their foreign ministry has abandoned them, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported on Monday.
Canada said in April it would remove the families of staff posted to Havana, where both Canadian and US diplomats have complained of dizziness, headaches and nausea.
The diplomats complained that the foreign ministry — unlike the US State Department — had said very little about the matter in public and did not appear to be making their case a priority. Getting specialized medical care has been difficult, they added.
“We did not expect to be abandoned, or more precisely, sacrificed — that’s how we’re feeling now,” the paper quoted one of them as saying.
Several of those affected believe Ottawa has said little in public because it wants to maintain friendly relations with Cuba, the Globe added.
An official at the Canadian foreign ministry did not respond directly when asked about the diplomats’ complaints that they had been abandoned, but said the situation was very difficult.
“It is really an unprecedented type of incident, which has a lot of uncertainty. Our response to it has evolved since we first became aware of it,” said the official, adding that Ottawa had done its best to make medical care available.
The official requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
US and Cuban officials met at the State Department in September to discuss the mysterious health problems. The United States has reduced embassy staffing in Cuba from more than 50 to a maximum 18.
NBC News said in September that US officials believe the health problems may have been caused by sophisticated electromagnetic weapons.
The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) — the union representing rank and file diplomats — said the initial government reaction had been inadequate, in part because no one had experience of such a problem.
“Everyone is worried because if you don’t know what something is, and it’s unpredictable, nobody can say for sure that (it) isn’t going to happen again,” PAFSO president Pamela Isfeld said in a phone interview. “I totally do not blame them for being very unhappy with this.”
Adam Austen, a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said she was deeply troubled by the health problems the diplomats were experiencing.


Philippine police say will arrest anyone flouting vaping ban

Updated 20 November 2019

Philippine police say will arrest anyone flouting vaping ban

  • The ban came days after Philippine health authorities reported the nation’s first vaping-related lung injury
  • The devices are already banned in several places such as Brazil, Singapore, Thailand and the US state of Massachusetts

MANILA: Philippine police were ordered Wednesday to arrest anyone caught vaping in public, just hours after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced he would ban e-cigarettes.
The abrupt prohibition, revealed by Duterte late Tuesday adds to a growing global backlash against a product once promoted as less harmful than tobacco smoking.
Duterte, a former smoker, called the devices “toxic” and said vaping introduced “chemicals” into the user’s body.
He ordered the arrest of anyone vaping publicly in a country that already has some of Asia’s toughest anti-smoking rules.
No formal, written order has been made public that spells out the scope of the ban or penalties for violations.
Duterte is notorious internationally for his deadly anti-narcotics crackdown, but he has also targeted tobacco with a wide-ranging ban on smoking in public.
Citing “the order of the president,” on Wednesday a statement from the head of the Philippine police ordered “effective today, all police units nationwide to enforce the ban on use of vapes; ensure that all violators will be arrested.”
The ban came days after Philippine health authorities reported the nation’s first vaping-related lung injury, which resulted in a 16-year-old girl being hospitalized.
Vaping has taken off in the Philippines, with speciality shops and vapers puffing away in public a common sight.
E-cigarette users were caught off guard by the ban and questioned the utility of arresting people who, at worst, were hurting themselves.
“It’s inappropriate. In any case, we don’t hurt people, the environment or animals,” said 22-year-old student Alexis Martin.
“Why are vapers being targeted?”
E-cigarettes warm flavored liquid to produce vapor that is free of the estimated 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, but does contain a number of substances that could potentially be harmful.
Critics say that apart from being harmful in themselves, the multiple exotic flavors of e-cigarette liquids appeal particularly to youngsters and risk getting them addicted to nicotine.
The devices have become hugely popular in the past decade but a rash of vaping-linked deaths and illnesses in the United States is feeding caution about the product, already banned in some places.
In September 2019 India became the latest country to ban the import, sale, production and advertising of e-cigarettes, citing in particular concerns for its youth.
The devices are already banned in several places such as Brazil, Singapore, Thailand and the US state of Massachusetts.