FDA start criminal probe into vape illnesses as deaths climb

The number of people afflicted by vaping-related lung injury rises to 530 across 38 states, prompting the FDA to start a criminal investigation.

The number of cases have leaped from 380 last week, while deaths linked to the products have now risen to seven across six states, according to Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than half of the people who have fallen ill are younger than 25, and 16 per cent are younger than 18, emphasising the need to reduce e-cigarette use among younger people. Most of the cases to date are male, and CDC is now recommending that people stop vaping altogether until a cause has been identified.

Last month, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb suggested the most likely culprit was likely to be illicit and counterfeit vape products, including those used to deliver the psychoactive cannabis compound THC or tetrahydrocannabidiol which are only legal in some states.

The CDC has set up an incident centre to coordinate the investigation into the outbreak, but so far “no consistent e-cigarette or vaping product, substance, additive, or brand has been identified in all cases”, according to Schuchat.

The pattern remains that a large number of cases have been seen in people using vapes delivering THC (tetrahydrocannabidiol) – a psychoactive compound in cannabis – with some using THC and nicotine products and a smaller group using nicotine vapes alone.

The FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) has two lines of investigation in play. It’s scientists are analysing more than 150 samples to try to identify a causative agent, while its also trying to identify where the hazardous products are coming from.

Initial testing identified one possible culprit as vitamin E acetate, but the director of the FDA’s Centre for Tobacco Products – Mitch Zeller – said that hadn’t been found in all cases. He also stressed the agency is not pursuing any prosecutions associated with personal use of controlled substances.

Image: Nery Zarate via

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