In Brief

There's Mounting Evidence That This Vaping Additive Is Behind Lung Illnesses

A THC-containing e-cigarette.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Officials have more evidence that a chemical called vitamin E acetate is playing a role in the recent vaping outbreak, which has sickened thousands of Americans.

On Tuesday (Nov. 26), researchers at the Minnesota Department of Health released the results of a study in which they analyzed 20 vaping products seized from black-market manufacturers during the outbreak of lung illnesses this year, and 10 products seized in 2018 — before the outbreak started. They found vitamin E acetate present in all samples tested from 2019, but not in any samples from 2018.

The findings suggest "vitamin E acetate might have been introduced recently as a diluent or filler" in vaping products, the authors wrote in their paper, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a journal from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Vitamin E acetate is an oil derived from vitamin E that black-market manufacturers sometimes add to vaping products containing THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) as a way to "cut" or dilute the THC. Earlier this month, health officials called vitamin E acetate a "very strong culprit of concern" in the vaping outbreak, after they found it in lung samples taken from patients with vaping-related lung illnesses, also known as EVALI, Live Science previously reported

In addition to the seized products, researchers in the new study also analyzed vaping products obtained from 12 patients with EVALI in Minnesota. Of the 46 samples analyzed, more than half (52%) contained vitamin E acetate. 

What's more, among the 12 patients who submitted the samples, 11 used products that were found to contain vitamin E acetate.

The chemical was specifically found in THC-containing products; it was not found in products that contained only nicotine.

The findings "support a potential role for vitamin E acetate in the EVALI outbreak," the authors said.

Still, the researchers stress that their study found an association and can't prove that vitamin E acetate actually causes lung injury. In addition, there may be more than one chemical or ingredient involved in the outbreak, they said.

The authors also note that their study was small, and larger studies are needed to confirm whether vitamin E acetate is indeed a newly introduced substance.

"Until the relationship between vitamin E acetate and lung health is better characterized, vitamin E acetate should not be added to e-cigarette, or vaping, products," the authors concluded. The CDC currently recommends that people do not use THC-containing e-cigarette products, particularly from informal sources such as friends, family or online dealers.

As of Nov. 20, more than 2,200 Americans have developed lung illnesses in connection with the outbreak, according to the CDC.

Originally published on Live Science. 

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.

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    Our lungs are designed to take in only molecules that are airborne and of a specific temperature and size. The lungs have evolved to deal with these elements, airborne bacteria and other particles over generations with the ever changing atmosphere. But as all these particles are usually within the local temperature range, the lungs know how to deal with them, as protection systems are at play which evolution produced over time.

    Now with these vaping devices the liquid chemicals inside are being heated up to higher temperatures to vaporize the chemicals, thus heating the particles but also reducing the size of them, which in turn creates problems for the lungs, by way of absorption. The heat damage to the very delicate Alveoli (the part of the organ responsible for our breathing in Oxygen and releasing CO2 among trace elements in gases), is damaging to the point it will prevent normal breathing if the abuse to this delicate organ persists.

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