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CDC may have found a potential cause for vaping deaths

Analysis of lung fluid collected from 29 patients shows the presence of vitamin E acetate.

Vitamin E acetate could be the cause of vaping-related illnesses and deaths.
Toshiro Shimada/Getty Images

Federal health officials have reportedly found vitamin E acetate in the lung fluid of more than two-dozen patients diagnosed with the mysterious vaping-related illness that's so far sickened over 2,000 people and killed 39. Vitamin E acetate is an additive in some THC-containing products. The announcement doesn't officially rule out that other possible ingredients may be causing the lung injuries, but a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said no other potential toxins were detected in its tests.

"For the first time we have detected a potential toxin of concern, vitamin E acetate, in biologic samples from patients with lung injuries associated with the use of e-cigarettes or vaping products. These findings provide direct evidence of vitamin E acetate at the primary site of injury -- within the lungs -- and the samples reflect patients from states across the country," Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, said during a press conference Friday. 

The agency added in a post that it "continues to recommend that people should not use e-cigarette, or vaping, products that contain THC, particularly from informal sources like friends, or family, or in-person or online dealers."

Vitamin E acetate was discovered in the lung fluid samples of 29 patients from 10 states, according to the CDC. THC was found in 82% of the samples, and nicotine was identified in 62% of the samples. The CDC also tested the samples for other chemicals commonly found or added to THC products, like mineral oil, terpenes and more, but none were detected in the samples. 

Vitamin E acetate is also found in some foods and skin creams. Past research from the CDC indicates that when consumed or applied topically, vitamin E acetate isn't harmful. It can interfere with lung function if inhaled.

Over the past year, vaping has gained international attention. Once seen by some as a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes, or a way to stop smoking, vaping began making people sick. The CDC opened an investigation in August as the number of those who'd fallen ill continued to rise, and bans went into effect overseas, with China halting the sale of e-cigarettes online. 

The CDC wasn't immediately available for further comment about the vitamin E findings.

On late Friday, Washington state's Department of Health and its Liquor and Cannabis Board called on all cannabis processing companies to "immediately stop adding vitamin E acetate to vapor products and distributing any vapor products containing vitamin E acetate."

"DOH and LCB are also asking cannabis retailers to immediately stop selling cannabis-containing vapor products known to contain vitamin E acetate," they added. "All products available for retail sale are required to have documentation available that lists ingredients."

CNET's Corinne Reichert contributed to this report.

Originally published Nov. 8, 11:23 a.m. PT.
Update, 5:47 p.m.: Adds info from Washington state.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.