Vitamin E named as primary culprit in vaping illness, but feds urge caution


A person smokes an E-Cigarette. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

State officials on Thursday pinpointed vitamin E as a likely cause of the vaping-related lung disease outbreak. But federal officials stressed they are still probing multiple possible causes of the mystery illness that sickened 200 people and claimed two lives.

“It is probably important for us to keep an open mind that it may be a cause or may be causes,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said. “People need to realize that it is very probable that there are multiple causes.”

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The New York State Department of Health said it had received 34 reports of individuals between ages 15 and 34 who developed pulmonary illnesses after using at least one unregulated cannabis-containing vape product.

State laboratory test results found high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all of the cannabis-containing samples, New York officials said. At least one vitamin E acetate-containing vape product has been linked to each patient who submitted products for testing.

New York officials said the common nutritional supplement — which is not designed to be inhaled — is now the main focus of their investigation into vaping-associated pulmonary illnesses.

They urged New Yorkers not to use unregulated products, which are not tested and may contain harmful substances, and said people should not modify vape products to add substances not intended by the manufacturer.

“Vaping of unknown substances is dangerous, and we continue to explore all options to combat this public health issue,” Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said.

Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless did not respond to the specific vitamin E question but told POLITICO, “Our data are starting to agree with other sources of data that most of the products are non-traditional … products.”

“It’s still too early to say definitively what is happening, but we’re very concerned,” he said.

Irfan Rahman, a University of Rochester scientist, said the chest X-rays of vape-sickened patients he had examined did not indicate damage from vitamin E. Other scientists have cautioned that many different components of vapes could cause serious lung disease.

An FDA spokesperson said the agency was analyzing 100 samples submitted by the states and was looking for the presence of a broad range of chemicals, including nicotine, THC and other cannabinoids, solvents, diluents, pesticides, opioids, poisons and toxins.

Brianna Ehley and Arthur Allen contributed to this report.