Vitamin E may be to blame for vaping-related lung illnesses

Amid an outbreak of hundreds of lung disease illnesses and two deaths related to e-cigarette use, investigators from the New York State Department of Health may have finally determined what is making people so sick across the country. Vitamin E acetate has become the focus of the Department after it was found in nearly all cannabis-containing samples analyzed by its investigation.

The CDC and several dozen states have also been investigating the illnesses, which climbed to more than 200 by the end of August. Research on e-cigarette use has found that it has helped people quit regular cigarettes, but they can also lead to other health harms. The lung disease illnesses involve severe symptoms, including shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever or weight loss.

In New York, there were 34 reports of severe pulmonary illness among patients from 15 to 46 years of age from state physicians. All patients reported use of various vape products but they were using at least one cannabis-containing vape product before they became ill, according to the state’s health department.

"The cases of pulmonary illnesses associated with vaping are continuing to rise across New York State and the country," Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, MD, JD, said in a statement. "We urge the public to be vigilant about any vaping products that they or any family members may be using and to immediately contact their health care provider if they develop any unusual symptoms. In general, vaping of unknown substances is dangerous, and we continue to explore all options to combat this public health issue."

Vitamin E acetate was not seen in the nicotine-based products tested by New York State, and it is not an approved additive for the state’s medical marijuana program. Vitamin E is commonly used in other types of products and is not known to be harmful when ingested or applied to the skin. The problem might be when it is inhaled “because its oil-like properties could be associated with the observed symptoms,” according to the New York health department.

The department also warned e-cigarette users not to purchase products off the street that could be modified.

“These unregulated products are not tested and may contain harmful substances,” the statement read. “Users of vape products should never modify vape products or add any substances that are not intended by the manufacturer.”