Researchers are a step closer to finding a cause for vaping-related deaths.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a press briefing, said it reached a breakthrough in linking deaths and illnesses to vitamin E oil, particularly in combination with THC, the ingredient in cannabis that delivers a psychoactive sensation.
“These new findings are significant,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the CDC, said during the update. “We have a strong culprit” in the agency’s investigation.
The center found vitamin E acetate in samples taken from 29 sick patients in 10 states. The CDC's Dr. James Pirkle called the acetate “enormously sticky” and said it tends to linger in the lungs after inhaled, potentially causing cases of lung illness or death.
More work is being done to confirm a specific cause tied to vaping illness, and the CDC said it is looking into a range of additional chemicals. The vitamin E discovery “does not rule out other possible ingredients," Schuchat said. "There may be more than one cause."
The total number of vaping fatalities is now at 37, and cases of the illness have hit a whopping 1,888. The outbreak has reached every state with the exception of Alaska.
E-cigarettes, which exploded into popularity in the last few years, have come under a blitz of public scrutiny, as vaping-related illnesses have continued to claim lives. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration called vaping illness an “epidemic,” and the Trump administration has said it would launch a federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes. New York University researchers published the first study in October linking e-cigarettes directly to lung cancer.
Retailers around the country have stopped the sale of vaping products in the wake of the endemic. This month, Kroger joined Walmart and Rite Aid in banning e-cigarettes and related items after they sell out of their current stock.
“Kroger is discontinuing the sale of electronic nicotine delivery products, or e-cigarettes, at all store and fuel-center locations due to the mounting questions and increasingly complex regulatory environment associated” with them, the company said in a statement, adding that it would “exit this category after selling through its current inventory.”
While medical experts have not been able to pin down a specific cause for vaping illnesses, the CDC and FDA said THC was present in most cases in question, “particularly those obtained off the street or from other informal sources.”
The CDC suggested people discontinue the use of vaping products altogether: “Since the specific compound or ingredient causing lung injury are not yet known, the only way to assure that you are not at risk while the investigation continues is to consider refraining from use of all e-cigarette or vaping products.”