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Vape lung is on the decline as CDC report fixes blame on oily additive

Devin Coldewey

The CDC has issued a set of reports showing that the lung disease associated with vaping seems to be declining from peak rates, and that Vitamin E acetate seems — as speculated early on — to be the prime suspect for the epidemic. The affliction has cost at least 54 lives and affected 2,506 people across the nation.

The condition now officially known as EVALI (E-cigarette, or Vaping, Product Use-Associated Lung Injury) appeared over the summer, with hundreds of people reporting chest pains, shortness of breath and other symptoms. When state medical authorities and the CDC began comparing notes, it became clear that vaping was the common theme between the cases — especially using THC products.

Before long the CDC recommended ceasing all vape product usage and was collating reports and soliciting samples from around the country. Their medical authorities have now issued several reports on the disease. The most significant finding echoes earlier indications that Vitamin E acetate, an oily substance that was apparently being used as a cutting agent in low-quality vaping cartridges, is at the very least a major contributor to the condition:

Building upon a previous study, CDC analyzed bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid from a larger number of EVALI patients from 16 states and compared them to BAL fluid from healthy people. Vitamin E acetate, also found in product samples tested by the FDA and state laboratories, was identified in BAL fluid from 48 of 51 EVALI patients and was not found in any of the BAL fluids of healthy people.

That's pretty clear cut, but importantly it does not exonerate any other, perhaps even worse additives that may not have been so widespread. It seems clear that vaping product producers will need to reestablish trust in the wake of this fatal blunder, and part of that will have to be transparency and regulation.

Vaping rose to prominence quickly and has proven difficult to effectively regulate. The shady companies that were selling stamped-on cartridges filled with what would prove to be a lethal adulterant have probably already picked up and moved on to the next scam.

The good news is the scale of the epidemic seems to have reached its maximum. There are still cases coming in, but the number of new patients is not rising sharply every month. Perhaps this indicates that people are taking the CDC's advice and not vaping as much or at all, or perhaps the products using the additive have been quietly slipped off the market.