What we Know so Far About the US Vaping Illness Outbreak

An ultra orthodox Jewish man seen smoking an electric cigarette Photo by Nati Shohat/FLASH90

U.S. health officials are investigating what might be causing hundreds of serious breathing illnesses in people who use e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. They have identified about 450 possible cases in 33 states, including six deaths.

A look at what we know so far about the outbreak as the investigation continues:


Patients are coming into hospitals with cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and vomiting.


Many of the reports involve severe, life-threatening illnesses in previously healthy people. Many patients received oxygen. Some needed to be put on breathing machines before they recovered. Antibiotics didn’t work, and it’s not clear yet whether steroid drugs helped.


No single device, ingredient or additive has been identified. Most of the patients say they vaped products containing THC, the high-producing ingredient in marijuana. Others say they vaped only nicotine and others say they vaped both THC and nicotine.


Doctors believe this isn’t caused by a germ. Instead, they suspect chemical exposure. And vape juice contains many possible culprits.

After testing products, New York has focused its investigation on vitamin E acetate, which recently has been used as a thickener, particularly in black market vape cartridges. Suppliers say it dilutes vape oils without making them look watery. Vitamin E is safe as a vitamin pill or to use on the skin, but inhaling oily vitamin E droplets into the lungs can trigger pneumonia.

Immune cells containing oily droplets have been found in the lungs of some patients. These large cells, called macrophages, are the cleanup crew of the immune system. University of Utah doctors think this could be a marker for vaping injury. They wrote up their findings about six patients in the New England Journal of Medicine.


Most e-cigarettes contain colorless, flavorless chemicals such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, which create an inhalable vapor when heated. The chemicals are considered safe as food additives but their long-term effects when inhaled have not been studied.

Researchers have found cancer-causing chemicals in e-cigarette vapor, such as formaldehyde. However, it’s not yet clear whether those chemicals are present in high enough amounts to cause harm.

E-cigarette vapor contains tiny particles that carry flavorings. Some early-stage laboratory and animal studies suggest these flavor particles can damage the lungs, airways and blood vessels, but more research is needed to better understand how human bodies react to them.

Much less is known about the contents of THC oils and how those chemicals behave when heated.

“I wouldn’t rule anything out at this point because we know so little,” said Dr. David Christiani of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.


There have been occasional reports of similar illnesses, including one from 2000 that was tied to inhaling homemade marijuana-infused oil vapor. The large number of cases is new and alarming to public health officials.


State and federal health officials are testing products and analyzing cases for clues.

New York is issuing subpoenas to three companies that sell vaping additives made from vitamin E acetate. The state wants to know more about the ingredients, the quality of the raw materials, any safety testing performed, sales of the products during the past three years and what other additives the companies sell.


Most of the cases involve products purchased on the street, not in dispensaries in states with legal sales of medical or recreational weed. One person who died in Oregon had used an e-cigarette containing marijuana oil purchased from a dispensary. Health officials there don’t know whether the product was contaminated or whether the victim may have added something to the liquid in the device after buying it.


Health officials are urging people to stop vaping and to get medical care if they have trouble breathing or chest pain after vaping.


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  1. This is just the start, anyone who has been a big vapor is at major risk
    This has been a huge guinee test project on people and greedy THC companies have put the dollar above all else

  2. The question is what is being added to the vape juice to cause the harm.

    Seemingly it is affecting people harmfully more than cigarettes.
    One explanation for this may be that with cigarettes the tabacco is completely burnt, with an individual inhaling smoke that has had all organisms/bacteria etc burnt by fire, while with vaping a person is inhaling the raw solution of the vapor, heated only enough to cause it to become vapor but not enough to burn off organisms/bacteria etc, and they end up with the raw unburnt solution in their lungs.
    Furthermore, as it remains raw the concentration of all ingredients enters their bloodstream, as opposed to just the remnant chemicals that remain after being burnt entirely, such as with conventional smoking; and the juice used can contain a number of ingredients in addition to THC oil or nicotine.
    Also, as one can see that with cigarettes, even after being entirely burnt (and passed through a filter) the nicotine is highly effective, showing the ingestion into one’s lungs enters the blood stream in high concentration, as compared to through the digestive system, so therefore vaping chemicals that remain unburnt and raw enter the blood in much higher concentration than were the same chemicals eaten etc.

    Therefore all should be as careful about vaping as smoking for each have their own individual health disadvantages, as we are seeing from the reports on the dangers of vaping and affects even more harmful than smoking in many cases.

    Hashem Yishmor

  3. I’ve been vaping for over 5 years without any adverse effect. The only change is that I can now breathe which was quite difficult after smoking heavily for 21 years. I used to suffer from chronic bronchitis.

  4. what do you expect from frum people? They learn gemora, gemora and more gemora and read crap like yeted naaman. They have NO idea of the dangers of the real world.

    They should read vosizneias too!

  5. Who said that Vaping is safer than cigarettes? why was it ever allowed onto the market to start with?
    Who ever said that Vaping is Halachicly permitted? Also, is it certified Kosher?
    The dangers are only now becoming known – a lot sooner after being introduced than the dangers of smoking became known.
    This should be banned from Jewish communities now.

    • Vaping is still safer than cigarettes. For one thing, the secondhand smoke issue is almost nil. For another thing, this illness is a recent phenomenon that began long after vaping was introduced, and even so, vaping is still safer than smoking.

    • “The_Truth” knows nothing about anything. 1) There are vape companies certified Kosher. 2) There are poskim who say that it doesn’t need a hechsher. 3) The Royal College of Physicians in the UK has done extensive research and actively encorages smokers to switch to vaping.


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