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CDC confirms vitamin E acetate possibly linked to vaping illness outbreak

Vitamin E acetate is a chemical oil derived from vitamin E that is usually harmless when ingested or used topically.

The Centers for Disease Control said Friday that vitamin E acetate could be a potential toxin linked to the widespread outbreak of vaping illnesses in the U.S.

As of Thursday, there have been 2,051 confirmed cases of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury, or EVALI. The cases have been found in 49 states, as well as DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Thirty-nine people have died from the condition. 

Vitamin E acetate is a chemical oil derived from vitamin E. CDC officials collected samples of fluid collected from the lungs of 29 ill patients from 10 different states and vitamin E acetate was found in all samples. The compound was also previously found in vaping fluid used by many who got sick. Additionally, THC was found in 23 samples and nicotine in 16 samples. No other potential toxins have been identified in the samples so far. 

Officials believe the results from lab tests provide more direct evidence that the compound may be to blame for vaping illnesses. 

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Vitamin E is a common ingredient in nutritional supplements and topical skincare treatments. It's usually not harmful when ingested or applied topically, but experts said research indicated the oily nature of the chemical could irritate the lungs when inhaled. The compound is used as a thickener in vaping liquid, particularly in black market vape cartridges.

CDC officials urged consumers to avoid e-cigarette products entirely, because findings could not rule out other compounds or ingredients that may cause EVALI. 

Credit: AP
This Monday, Nov. 4, 2019 photo shows a vitamin E acetate sample during a tour of the Medical Marijuana Laboratory of Organic and Analytical Chemistry at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, N.Y. On Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said fluid extracted from 29 lung injury patients who vaped contained the chemical compound in all of them. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Consumers were urged to avoid e-cigarette products containing THC in particular, especially those obtained through informal means, such as through friends or dealers. 

According to a survey conducted by the Illinois Department of Health, EVALI patients were three times more likely to report exclusive use of THC vaping products, and were 9 times more likely to report obtaining THC products informally. 

The outbreak appears to have started in March. 

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