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With more than 1,000 reports involving severe respiratory illnesses and lung problems linked to e-cigarettes, federal health officials are urging the public to stop vaping with products that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and indicating that THC should not be added to other vaping products.
FDA Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless issued a statement on October 4, announcing a consumer alert that calls on the public to avoid vaping THC products, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis products. It is the closest to date that investigators have come to blaming the vaping respiratory outbreak on the substance.
The warning came a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an update on the e-cigarette illness outbreak, which is suspected in 1,080 illnesses and 18 deaths nationwide.
The outbreak was first reported by health officials in Illinois and Wisconsin only two months ago, after several cases of severe lung injury were identified, where e-cigarettes were the only common factor. However, since then, health officials nationwide have either identified similar cases, or realized they had treated similar cases without knowing about the e-cigarette connection.
A report by CDC researchers released late last month found growing evidence that vaping products made with THC may be linked to the e-cigarette illnesses, but researchers say they are not yet able to make a conclusive determination.
The consumer warning by the FDA acknowledges that researchers are still not ready to definitively say THC is behind the illnesses.
“At this time, the FDA does not have enough data to identify the cause, or causes, of the lung injuries in these cases,” Sharpless wrote. “Additionally, while no one compound or ingredient has emerged as a singular culprit, we do know that THC is present in most of the samples being tested. Because of this, the agency believes it is prudent to stop using vaping products that contain THC or that have had any substances added to them, including those purchased from retail establishments.”
Sharpless notes that while the cases of vaping illness present similarly, it is unclear if there is a common cause, and that the investigation has not identified a specific substance linked to all cases. The FDA has received more than 440 samples from 18 states and is working through testing al of the samples.
In recent months, there has been increased scrutiny of e-cigarettes, which have become the most popular form of nicotine among teens and young adults. In addition to the risk of e-cigarette respiratory illnesses, there is also now a new generation of teens addicted to JUUL, which contains high levels of nicotine and was aggressively marketed to individuals who were not prior cigarette smokers.
In response to the epidemic-levels of e-cigarette use reported among the nation’s youth, a number of state and federal officials have also announced new plans to ban certain flavored vaping products.
Bans have been announced in Michigan, New York and California, and federal regulators say a national flavored e-cigarette ban is in the works. In addition, a temporary ban has been declared in Massachusetts.
A growing number of JUUL addiction lawsuits are also now being pursued agains the manufacturers, alleging that the products were illegally marketed to kids while failing to disclose that each of the e-cigarette pods contain more nicotine than a pack of tobacco cigarettes.