From the Journals

Vitamin E acetate confirmed as likely source of EVALI



Vitamin E acetate was found in fluid from the lungs of 94% of patients with electronic cigarette, or vaping, product use–associated lung injury, data from a convenience sample of 51 patients indicate. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Cases of electronic cigarette, or vaping, product use–associated lung injury (EVALI) were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention starting in early 2019, and numbers rose throughout the year, “which suggests new or increased exposure to one or more toxicants from the use of e-cigarette products,” wrote Benjamin C. Blount, PhD, of the National Center for Environmental Health at the CDC, and colleagues.

To further investigate potential toxins in patients with EVALI, the researchers examined bronchoalveolar-lavage (BAL) fluid from 51 EVALI patients and 99 healthy controls.

After the researchers used isotope dilution mass spectrometry on the samples, 48 of the 51 patients (94%) showed vitamin E acetate in their BAL samples. No other potential toxins – including plant oils, medium-chain triglyceride oil, petroleum distillates, and diluent terpenes – were identified. The samples of one patient each showed coconut oil and limonene.

A total of 47 of 51 patients for whom complete laboratory data were available either reported vaping tetrahydrocannabinol products within 90 days of becoming ill, or showed tetrahydrocannabinol or its metabolites in their BAL fluid. In addition, 30 of 47 patients showed nicotine or nicotine metabolites in their BAL fluid.

The average age of the patients was 23 years, 69% were male. Overall, 25 were confirmed EVALI cases and 26 were probable cases, and probable cases included the three patients who showed no vitamin E acetate.

The safety of inhaling vitamin E acetate, which is a common ingredient in dietary supplements and skin care creams, has not been well studied. It could contribute to lung injury when heated in e-cigarette products by splitting the acetate to create the reactive compound and potential lung irritant ketene, the researchers said.

The study findings were limited by several factors including the possibility that vitamin E acetate is a marker for exposure to other toxicants, a lack of data on the impact of heating vitamin e acetate, and the inability to assess the timing of the vitamin E acetate exposure compared to BAL sample collection, the researchers noted.

However, the results suggest that vitamin E acetate may play a role in EVALI because of the high detection rate in patients from across the United States, the biologically possible potential for lung injury from vitamin e acetate, and the timing of the rise of EVALI and the use of vitamin E acetate in vaping products, they concluded.

The research was supported by the National Cancer Institute, the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, and The Ohio State University Pelotonia intramural research program. The authors had no financial conflicts to disclose.

SOURCE: Blount BC et al. N Engl J Med. 2019 Dec 20. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1916433.

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