Vaping Illness Culprit Identified: Vitamin E Acetate

After months of research into what exactly could be causing hundreds of vapers to fall ill from lung diseases, researchers think they’ve found one common suspect.

The whole issue with the vaping crisis is that vaping products are made from a number of substances—and every person’s personal health record can potentially affect their susceptibility to lung complications. However, in all 29 patient lungs collected for this study, one compound was found in all of them.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention looked at 29 lungs from affected and ill patients in a government lab. An analysis of fluid in these lungs revealed vitamin E acetate as the one common denominator among them all. Vitamin E acetate is a liquid compound found in electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices, and each of the damaged patient lungs showed evidence of this compound.

“We are in a better place in terms of having one very strong culprit,” said the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat.

However, one culprit does not mean this is the only cause of the vape epidemic. In fact, the agency cautions that it cannot rule out all other toxic substances from the equation, and it may take animal studies to clearly show how vitamin E acetate causes lung damage, according to a PBS News Hour article published by the Associated Press Health and Science Department.

Since March of this year, over 2,000 Americans have gotten sick from vape-related illnesses, and at least 40 people have died.

Vitamin E is largely unharmful in other forms, and it is more commonly used than one might think. The compound has been used a thickener in vaping fluid, particularly in black market vape cartridges. The vitamin is understood to be safe as a vitamin pill or to use on the skin. Researchers think its inhalation, however, might be causing the lung illnesses.

As other research shows, many of those who fell ill said they vaped liquids that contain THC, the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana. Many of these vaping substances were obtained through friends or bought on the black market.

The state of New York was the first to draw widespread attention to vitamin E acetate a few months ago, and many organizations and states have since rallied behind this concern. New York’s public health lab discovered the compound in samples of vaping products from sick patients. In some cases, it made up more than half of the liquid in the cartridges.

Other labs, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lab in Cincinnati, have found the compound in tests as well. The latest CDC test took a similar, but different approach to the vaping illness research related to vitamin E acetate:

Researchers extracted fluid from the lungs of 29 patients in 10 states. They looked in range of substances that had been found in vaping devices, including nicotine, THC and other marijuana components, plant oils, mineral oil and cutting agents used on the black market.
Vitamin E acetate was found in all 29 patient lungs.

“To me what’s important here is both what they found, and what they didn’t find” said Scott Becker, head of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “This was the only thing they found.”
As continued research on the vaping epidemic unravels, many health officials still caution people against vaping and vaping devices—at least until an identifiable source of illness can be identified. As of now, vitamin E acetate seems to be the only lead.

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    June 2020

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