Federal officials announced Friday they discovered an oily derivative of vitamin E in the lungs of patients hospitalized with vaping-related illnesses, a finding the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called a “breakthrough.”
The additive, vitamin E acetate, is sometimes used as a diluent of THC oil, particularly by street dealers. THC is the compound in marijuana that produces a “high.”
Of 28 lung tissue samples tested, all contained the additive and 23 contained THC.
The announcement came soon after President Trump told reporters Friday morning that the administration would raising the legal age to purchase electronic cigarettes nationally, likely to 21, in the much-anticipated rule on flavored vaping products to be announced next week.
The legal age for vaping now varies by state with many allowing it at 18 and more increasing it to 21.
“We’re going to be coming out with a very important position on vaping,” said Trump. “We have to take care of our kids, most importantly, so we’re going to have an age limit of 21, or so.”
Also Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported the results of a study that found lung-injury victims were more likely than non-injured vapers to exclusively use THC, buy those products from informal sources such as dealers, street sources or friends, and to vape five or more times a day.
The survey also found that young men were more likely to vape THC products most often. One in four young men aged 18 to 34 reported using THC-containing e-cigarette or vaping products five or more times each day, compared to 13% of similar-aged women.
The overwhelming majority of lung illnesses were in people who vaped nicotine and THC or THC alone, but came as teen nicotine vaping numbers continue to soar which increased pressure on regulators to act.
As of Tuesday, the outbreak has sickened 2,051 people and resulted in 39 confirmed deaths.
Trump and other administration officials have been lobbied heavily by the vaping industry. A rally is planned for Saturday across from the White House.
“We have a lot of people to look at, including jobs, frankly, because you know it’s become a pretty big industry but we’re going to take care of…,” said Trump.
E-cigarette use among high school students more than doubled from 2017 to 2019 to 27.5%. About 5.3 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes this year, up from 3.6 million in 2018.
Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, applauded raising the legal purchasing age.
“It appears President Trump is wisely preparing to enact smart regulations rather than embracing the losing politics of prohibition,” Conley said. “Raising the age to purchase tobacco and nicotine products to 21 puts the industry on a similar footing with other adult industries like alcohol and marijuana.”
Contributing: John Fritze