Vaping Lung Illness May Be Linked to Cannabis Product, Say Health Officials

Severe, mysterious lung illnesses that have struck more than 200 people around the country may be tied to an ingredient in cannabis-containing vapor products, said the New York State Department of Health.

New York and other states, as well as federal health regulators, have been racing to find a cause of the lung illnesses in people who used vaping and e-cigarette products. The Food and Drug Administration said it hasn’t yet narrowed its investigation to any particular product.

New York’s health department said in a statement it has identified 34 cases of severe lung illnesses in people who were using a cannabis-containing vape product, and that the products the department tested contained vitamin E acetate. Many had also used e-cigarette devices.

“Vitamin E acetate is now a key focus of the department’s investigation of potential causes of vaping-associated pulmonary illnesses,” the state said in the statement.

Vitamin E acetate is commonly used in nutritional supplements or applied to the skin for its antioxidant effects. While thought to be harmless for those uses, it could carry risks when inhaled, said New York’s health department.

The FDA is testing more than 100 samples of vape products as part of it investigation for a broad range of chemicals, including nicotine, THC, pesticides, opioids, poisons and toxins.

“No one substance, including vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all of the samples tested,” Stephanie Caccomo, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that other state health departments were looking into cannabis-containing vape products and vitamin E acetate as being associated with the lung illnesses. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week it was investigating 215 cases of severe pulmonary illness related to vaping in 25 states.

Two deaths — one in Illinois and one in Oregon — have been tied to the illnesses. The Oregon man bought a cannabis product from a dispensary, state health officials there said this week.

The lung illnesses are a threat to the e-cigarette industry, which has grown rapidly as a way for people to switch from traditional cigarettes, which are responsible for 480,000 deaths a year in the U.S. Some people use the devices to inhale cannabis and THC, and a variety of bootleg cartridges and pods are available for use with the devices.

The mysterious illnesses have caused regulators to take a fresh look at the entire product category and its potential risks, including the popular Juul device made by Juul Labs Inc.