An ongoing investigation into vaping-related lung illnesses reveals that the culprit may be very high levels of vitamin E acetate in cannabis-containing vape products, the New York State Department of Health said in a press release Thursday.
Vitamin E acetate is commonly used in skin care products and dietary supplements but it could pose a risk as an inhalant.
The substance, an oil, acts like a grease coating a vaper’s lungs, a Bryn Mawr College chemistry professor told the Washington Post.
Samples tested at the department's Wadsworth Center laboratory showed "very high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all cannabis-containing samples." In addition, at least one vitamin E acetate-containing vape product has been linked to each patient who submitted a product for testing.
Vitamin E acetate is now "a key focus" of the department's investigation into the illnesses. Some of the products tested by the New York health department were flavored vaping products, which were recently banned in Michigan.
As of September 5, there's been 34 reports of severe pulmonary illness among New York patients who were using at least one cannabis-containing vape product before they became ill, the department said.
"The cases of pulmonary illnesses associated with vaping are continuing to rise across New York State and the country," said Dr. Howard Zucker, the health commissioner for New York. "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."
As of August 27, 215 possible cases of severe pulmonary disease associated with the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have been reported by 25 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There's also additional cases that are still under investigation.
So far, three deaths possibly caused by vaping-related lung illnesses have been reported — one in Illinois, one in Oregon and one in Indiana.