Cause of vaping illness possibly discovered, says CDC

A breakthrough in the mysterious epidemic of vaping-related illnesses and deaths in the United States could also be a big win for the vaping industry -- an industry some say has been badly damaged by the situation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday released a study into the situation that looked at fluid in the lungs of 29 sick patients. According to that report, the compound vitamin E acetate was found in the lungs of all 29 patients, including two who died.

Vitamin E acetate has only recently been used as a thickener or cutter in vaping fluid, particularly in black market vape cartridges. While vitamin E is safe as a vitamin pill or to use on the skin, inhaling oily droplets of it can be harmful. It's sticky and stays in the lungs. The CDC's Dr. Jim Pirkle likened it to honey.  In recent months, the compound was discovered in samples of vape products being used by sick patients, but Friday’s study was the first to put it inside of the damaged lungs of patients.

"We are in a better place in terms of having one very strong culprit," said the CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat.

Many who got sick said they had vaped liquids that contain THC, the euphoria-inducing part of marijuana, with many saying they got them from friends or bought them on the black market.  This latest report seems to support the claims being made by many in the commercial vaping industry: that the illnesses are coming from black market products.

“That’s a big win, we’ve been saying it all along,” said Matthew Kleizo, owner of Fast Eddie’s Vape Shop in Orlando, “but I have to tell you,  the damage has been done to our industry because they’ve lumped everything together.”

Kleizo said since the vaping related illness and death scare began earlier this year, he’s had to close all but one of his shops.

“I went from 43 employees down to 12,” he said.

He said the scare has been a major hit industry-wide, scaring away many from the products that he says are intended to help adults curb tobacco addictions.  Kleizo said the e-liquids used in commercial vaping products are water-soluble and don’t contain oils that would have to burn at much higher temperatures to vaporize. He said that’s why he and others who work with the products have long been pointing to unregulated and black market products as the problem.

“There’s no vitamin E ever in [commercial] e-liquids,” he said. “I’m a manufacturer, and I know what I put in my products.”

Kleizo was on his way to Washington D.C. Friday to march alongside other members of the industry this weekend at the United Vapers Alliance rally. The group’s webpage said the rally is an effort to show lawmakers the benefits of vaping and support the right to vape in this country.  While that new study will likely be celebrated by rally attendees, they likely still have a lot of obstacles ahead.

The CDC study states that more studies are needed to see if the link between the vitamin E acetate and the illness cases is the actual cause of the problems, or if there’s more to it.

“These findings reinforce CDC’s recommendation that persons should not use e-cigarette, or vaping, products containing THC, especially those obtained from informal sources such as friends or family, or those from the illicit market, where product ingredients are unknown or can be highly variable,” the study states.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the CDC reported 39 vaping-related deaths across 24 states, and an additional 2,051 illnesses associated lung injury. All patients had reported a history of using e-cigarette or vaping products, and most cases involve a THC-containing product.

The White House is also expected next week to make a final decision, potentially on new policies regarding vaping. President Trump hinted Friday that could include raising the age to vape from 18 to 21.

This story was written out of Lake Mary, Florida.