Vaping health crisis: CDC identifies vitamin E acetate as cause behind lung injury outbreaks in US, calls it a 'breakthrough'
Experts found the compound in lung fluids from all the 29 tested patients. So far, 2,051 confirmed and probable US lung injury cases and 39 deaths have been associated with vaping.
There could be a 'breakthrough' in the vaping illness investigation being conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The health officials have detected a compound - vitamin E acetate - in 29 lung injury patients from 10 states, suggesting that it could be involved in the lung injury outbreaks that have affected over 2,000 people so far.
Calling vitamin E acetate “a very strong culprit of concern”, Dr Anne Schuchet, principal deputy director of the CDC announced that their discovery was "a breakthrough” in the investigation. This is the second such compound that has surfaced, after CDC linked certain e-cigarettes or vaping products containing a cannabis compound, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), to the lung injury outbreaks in the country.
Both these compounds could sometimes be present in e-cigarettes or vaping products. According to CDC, vitamin E acetate is used to thicken the vaping fluid that contain THC. Vitamin E acetate is ubiquitous, from skin creams to vitamin supplements. The compound does not usually cause harm, says CDC. However, when the otherwise harmless compound is inhaled, experts from the CDC believe that it may interfere with normal lung function.
The oil might be great for skincare, but when heated up, it can act almost like a grease, chemistry professor Michelle Francl told The Washington Post in September. He adds that breathing in vaporized grease could seriously affect the lungs, though researchers are still trying to figure out the exact mechanism that’s causing the lung damage.
In their investigations, CDC tested fluid samples from the lungs of patients suffering from the injury. They looked for a wide range of substances including plant oil, petroleum, distillates like mineral oil, medium chain triglyceride oils and terpenes -- compounds that are found in or added to THC products.
And from the compounds tested, the CDC singled out vitamin E acetate early in the product testing done in the New York Health Department’s Wadsworth laboratory. They found the compound in all 29 samples tested. The evidence against THC is also strong. The CDC estimates that nearly 85% of lung injury patients have reported using products containing THC, finding it in 23 of the 28 samples tested. They also found nicotine in 16 of the 26 tested samples.
But not every THC vaping pen contained Vitamin E, a lab official told Reuters. Dr Schuchet cautioned that more work is needed to definitively declare Vitamin E acetate a cause, and added that other studies may identify other potential causes of the serious injuries as well.
As of November 7, the CDC has reported 2,051 confirmed and probable US lung injury cases and 39 deaths associated with use of e-cigarettes, or vaping products.