Nursing & Healthcare News

Vaping Lung Injury Update

A common ingredient may become hazardous when inhaled

The number of confirmed deaths due to vaping-related lung injury has now reached 42, but there’s finally some good news: CDC researchers have identified a possible cause of this mysterious illness.

Zeroing in on a Cause

Public health officials are now calling it EVALI: e-cigarette or vaping product-associated lung injury. As of November 13, there have been at least 2,172 cases in the U.S., including 42 deaths — at least three here in California.

After examining samples from patients in 10 states, researchers have finally identified a possible common link: vitamin E acetate, an oily substance that some e-liquid makers use to dilute or thicken the liquid, especially in products containing THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana).

Nursing Education

Vitamin E acetate is a common ingredient in cosmetics and certain foods, and it isn’t normally a health hazard in those forms. However, it could become a danger, explains CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D., if it’s vaporized in an e-cigarette and then inhaled, which puts the substance “right into the lungs, into the alveoli.”

Known and Unknown Risks

Even if vitamin E acetate is the culprit in the recent cases of EVALI, it’s far from the only potential danger of vaping. Various other ingredients that are perfectly safe in other forms could become much more hazardous when aerosolized, a risk that is still poorly understood (few studies have examined the long-term effects of inhaling food-grade flavorants!). And, that’s in addition to the well-known health risks of using nicotine or THC.

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The present outbreak also demonstrates that when it comes to vaping-related health risks, youth is no protection; 79 percent of EVALI patients have been under 35. Some of the patients who’ve died were as young as 17 — and another 17-year-old patient recently needed a double lung transplant!

Aaron Severson is a freelance writer, editor, and writing consultant as well as the associate editor of Working Nurse.

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