Samples of lung fluid from 29 lung injury patients in 10 states all contain the same chemical, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today. The discovery is a huge step forward for the ongoing investigation into the serious and mysterious lung injuries that have affected e-cigarette users across the country.
The chemical, called vitamin E acetate, is now considered by the CDC as a "worrying chemical," investigating the outbreak. From November 5, 2019, 39 people died from the injury and 2,051 cases are investigated.
The agency says that vitamin E acetate is an oily substance that occurs in a lot of typical household items, including foods, supplements, and even skin creams.
According to the CDC website, "Vitamin E acetate usually causes no damage when taken as a vitamin supplement or applied to the skin. However, earlier research suggests that when vitamin E acetate is inhaled, it may disrupt normal lung function. "
The oil may be great for skin care, but when warmed up, it can almost work as a fat, chemistry professor Michelle Francl told The Washington Post in September. You could imagine that inhaling vaporized fat can seriously affect the lungs, although researchers are still trying to figure out the exact mechanism that causes lung damage.
Researchers believe that the substance has been added to e-cigarette products as a thickener and is especially attractive to people who make illegal products because it resembles tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil. THC is the substance in marijuana that causes a high.
Vitamin E acetate was linked to the injuries earlier in early September, when some government agencies identified the substance in samples of evaporation products used by people who later had the disease. But finding in products was not the same as finding in the patients themselves.
In this case, researchers looked at liquid taken from the lungs of patients suffering from the injury, and found vitamin E acetate in each sample. THC was found in 82 percent of the lung fluid samples and nicotine was found in 62 percent of the samples, suggesting that the vast majority of patients use THC products and that many used both nicotine and THC products.
The CDC looked for other additives in the samples, including mineral oils and plant oils, but found nothing to worry about.
Today's discovery does not mean that the investigation is over, or that vitamin E acetate is the only cause of the injuries. Other chemicals could also have played a role in the ongoing outbreak. The work of the CDC – and a corresponding investigation by the Food and Drug Administration into the outbreak of injuries – is continuing. The agency continues to recommend that people do not use THC evaporation products, in particular products obtained online, or from family or friends.