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State and federal health investigators indicate that they may have identified a potential chemical, which was found in marijuana vaping products, that could be responsible for a multi-state outbreak of severe respiratory illnesses associated with e-cigarettes.
The New York State Department of Health issued a press release on September 5, indicating that investigators are focusing on a chemical known as vitamin E acetate, which was found in very high levels in nearly all samples collected containing cannabis.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and various state health agencies are now investigating more than 200 cases of pulmonary illness in 25 states, which all appear to be linked to vaping. New York reports having 34 such cases.
For weeks, investigators have been unable to find a common thread between the illnesses, which have also been linked to at least two deaths. However, the discovery of vitamin E acetate is the first potential element that may explain the problems.
“At least one vitamin E acetate containing vape product has been linked to each patient who submitted a product for testing,” the New York health department press release states. “As a result, vitamin E acetate is now a key focus of the Department’s investigation of potential causes of vaping-associated pulmonary illness.”
Vitamin E acetate is a common nutritional supplement. However, it is usually ingested or used as a topical product applied to the skin. However, health officials say its oil-like properties could cause respiratory problems like those being seen when inhaled, and investigators say the samples tested have been shown to contain large amounts of it.
Investigators also caution that while it has been found in nearly all cannabis-containing sample in New York, it has not been found in any samples that were purely nicotine. Many of the samples tested are believed to be counterfeit versions of legal, recreational cannabis products sold in other states.
Vaping Illness Investigation
Both the FDA and CDC issued public health warnings over e-cigarette respiratory illnesses this week, calling for consumers to avoid using JUUL and other e-cigarettes if they do not already use the products.
The CDC has also released a clinical action alert, calling on doctors to report any possible cases of vaping lung illnesses to their state health department.
Federal health officials indicate that it is important to collect as much information about the vaping products used. Doctors should try to find out if they were using commercially available devices or liquids, if they were sharing e-cigarette products with other people, if they were reusing old cartridges or pods, or if they were heating a drug to concentrate it, then using a specific type of device to inhale it, which is known as dabbing.
In addition to the cases of lung disease, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received at least 127 reports of seizures and other neurological symptoms believed to be linked to e-cigarette use. The agency is investigating whether there is a direct relationship between vaping and seizures, or other adverse neurological events.
A stream of additional studies published over the last few years have linked e-cigarette use to seizures, pneumonia, fungal infections of the lungs, and respiratory health risks, among many other adverse health effects.
In the coming weeks, Michigan will become the first state to ban the use of flavored e-cigarette products, as a law signed in June (PDF) goes into effect.
This new information comes amid a growing number of JUUL vaping lawsuits filed by young adults, teenagers and parents, claiming that the manufacturer of the most popular form of e-cigarette targeted their addictive product toward teens and withheld important safety warnings.