US officials working to track down the cause of a rash of lung illnesses connected to vaping are honing in on one potential contaminant as the investigation continues.
The substance in question is an oil derived from Vitamin E, The Washington Post reports. Vitamin E can be found in almonds and avocados, and the oil derived from it is commonly used in beauty products and nutritional supplements. But inhaling it could pose risks. The oil, Vitamin E acetate, acts like a grease coating a vaper’s lungs, Bryn Mawr College chemistry professor Michelle Francl told The Post.
The Centers for Disease Control says that as of August 27th, there have been 215 cases reported across 25 states of the mysterious lung illness. Most of the patients are teens and people under 40, according to the CDC, which isn’t surprising since the US Surgeon General called vaping an “epidemic among youth.” Their symptoms include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. Two people have died so far after being hospitalized in Oregon and Illinois.
The Washington Post reports that officials conducting an investigation at the Food and Drug Administration found Vitamin E acetate in cannabis products used by those with the illness. The substance was also present in almost all the cannabis products used by sick patients in New York, where 34 people have come down with the severe lung illness.
Investigators had already ruled out infectious diseases, and were looking into contaminants and bootleg vape products as potential culprits. On Thursday, New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement the acetate became “a key focus” because it is isn’t an approved additive for medical marijuana vape samples and wasn’t present in the nicotine products health authorities tested. The statement said vitamin E acetate was present in “very high levels” in “nearly all cannabis-containing samples” tested by the state.
The CDC has warned vapers to avoid using e-cigarettes and related products that have been modified or bought off the street.