Better not be vitamin E in that smoke, boys.
Better not be vitamin E in that smoke, boys. MATT CARDY/GETTY IMAGS

Washington’s Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) is calling on all pot businesses in the state to stop selling any weed vaporizer cartridges that were made using vitamin E acetate, after a new federal report found the sticky vape additive is the likely culprit behind this country’s mysterious lung illness.

The ban on vitamin E is a voluntary one, according to an LCB spokesperson. It’s also not clear if vitamin E had been used by any legal pot companies in this state. The spokesperson did not say if the LCB knows of any pot processors using the substance.

Vitamin E acetate, a sticky additive usually found in food products, has long been suspected as the cause of America’s mysterious vape lung illness, which has sickened 2,051 and killed 40 people across the country. But the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gave a lot more evidence for that theory in a new report released on Friday that found vitamin E in 100 percent of lung samples taken from sick patients.

The CDC report analyzed lung fluid samples from 29 patients stricken with the disease. The patients came from 10 different states and included two people who had died. Vitamin E acetate was found in all 29 of the samples tested, which gives direct evidence that the sticky substance was used by people who fell ill after vaping.

The CDC’s lab tested for other possible causes for the illness, including plant oils, petroleum distillates, terpenes, and medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, but those substances were not detected in any of the 29 specimens. However, the CDC warned that they are still recommending people stop vaping entirely because “it is possible that more than one compound or ingredient could be a cause of lung injury, and evidence is not yet sufficient to rule out the contribution of other toxicants to” the lung illness.

Gov. Jay Inslee responded to this nationwide vape illness by directing the Department of Health (DOH) and LCB to ban flavored vape cartridges as well as ban any contaminants as soon as authorities found a culprit for the lung illness. The LCB’s voluntary recall of vitamin E acetate products was following this directive from Inslee, according to LCB spokesperson Brian Smith. He said the LCB is working with DOH this week to decide if they should pass a mandatory ban on the substance.

In September, the LCB also directed all vape producers to submit a list of ingredients to the state. Smith said the state has not yet received ingredient lists from all vape processors. He declined to say if the LCB knew of any use of vitamin E in Washington’s legal market.

The majority of these vape illnesses have come from black market THC products, with a smaller subset of people falling ill reporting that they used only nicotine E-cigarettes. One such case occurred earlier this month, when a Seattle man died in Oregon after apparently using an e-cigarette he purchased in that state.

The cannabis website Leafly has extensively documented how vitamin E acetate recently became a popular cutting agent for black market THC vape cartridges. There is a massive black market industry for vape pens in states without legal markets, with millions of dollars in unregulated vape cartridges being sold in places like Illinois, New York, and Texas.

Very few of the vape illnesses cases have been connected to pot vape cartridges purchased on the legal market, however a handful of cases have implicated the legal market. That includes a police officer in Washington, who said he fell ill after using legal vape pens. The officer sued the companies behind the products he said got him ill, but he did not immediately provide any proof that those legal products themselves caused the illness.