The Vaping Illness


Harry Kwon, Writer

Roughly seven months ago, a series of lung illnesses swept across the nation, resulting in the deaths of 60 and the hospitalization of 2,711 people as of January 21, 2020. This illness was labeled as EVALI. The culprit was quickly found to be vaping, but with 34.2% of all high school students vaping, a question was raised wondering why such a small percentage of these vapers contracted the illness. The CDC then began collecting information and samples, interviewing those with the illness about where they acquired their vaping device and identifying the chemicals in these vapes.


What they found somewhat contradicted the original hypothesis, as they found that 76% of the products contained tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical compound in marijuana that induces hallucinatory and stimulative effects. This means that these products are most likely not vape products, but rather THC oil cartridges, which function in a similar manner to vapes. 


Unlike vaping products, these cartridges are outlawed in all states that have not legalized marijuana, creating a black market and an incentive to manufacture these products illegally. When these products are manufactured illegally, they are not subject to FDA regulations, and are therefore much more likely to contain harmful chemicals and additives. This fits the data found by the CDC, as they found that 77% of the THC products contained vitamin E acetate, 33% had aliphatic esters, and 8% contained polyethylene glycol.


Aliphatic esters are used to create sweet smells, mostly in perfume and cologne, and polyethylene glycol is the main compound in antifreeze. Vitamin E acetate is used as an additive to dilute the product. The one thing that these compounds have in common is their capability to  do harm to the human body. 


Another study conducted by the CDC tested the bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid of 99 healthy individuals and 51 individuals with EVALI for vitamin E acetate, plant oils, medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, coconut oil, petroleum distillates, and diluent terpenes. In the 99 healthy individuals, none of the aforementioned toxicants were found. On the other hand, in the BAL fluid of 48 out of the 51 individuals with EVALI, vitamin E acetate was found. None of the other toxicants were found in the BAL fluid of this group, except for one individual whose BAL fluid was found to contain coconut oil, and another’s who contained limonene.


From this data the CDC concluded that vitamin E acetate was the main toxin causing this lung illness, however other afore mentioned chemicals and oils are still likely to cause EVALI. Because of this, the CDC recommends that you should avoid using vape and THC oil products, and especially avoid those products when they’re being sold to you by family, friends, and in-person or online dealers.