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US headlines are there to scare; here’s why you shouldn’t be worrying about vaping

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Since August, six people have died in the USA, and all of these have been attributed to vaping - but there’s a key factor here that has been poorly reported in the press: in all cases, the person had used or was in possession of a specific type of THC cartridge that contained levels of vitamin E.

THC is a psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. E-liquid cartridges of this type are often ‘bootleg’, meaning they are likely either home-made or bought on the street. They are illegal in the UK and in the majority of American states.

What is vitamin E & why was it present?

Vitamin E (acetate) is a compound that can be taken in the form of a supplement. It’s also found naturally in many foods, such as almonds, peanuts and various natural oils. If ingested orally (via food or capsules), it isn’t dangerous.

The problem arises when it’s inhaled. The deaths in question were all linked to THC cartridges that had vitamin E in them. This means the vapour being inhaled contained an oil-based compound which, upon reaching the lungs, would quickly return to its liquid form. This can then lead to lung irritation, inflammation or failure in some cases.

“If inhaled at sufficient amounts, it could certainly cause respiratory problems, maybe even lipid pneumonia, a lung inflammation associated with inhalation of oils”

-Sven-Eric Jordt, Duke School of Medicine

Sven-Eric Jordt, a Duke University researcher, says it’s unclear why vitamin E was present in these bootleg cartridges. He confirmed that vitamin E has never been found in any of the regulated e-liquids he has studied in his career.

Is vitamin E found in normal e-liquids?


The key take-away is that these cases are all linked to illicit, unregulated THC cartridges. In the UK, all liquids are required to meet various safety standards set out by public health boards. These kinds of restrictions are not in place in the majority of US states.

Martin Dockrell, who is the head of Tobacco Control in the UK as part of Public Health England, commented: “Unlike the US, all e-cigarette products in the UK are tightly regulated for quality and safety by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and they operate the yellow card scheme, encouraging vapers to report any bad experiences”. It’s these restrictions that help to keep consumers safe.

It is still safe to vape

The headlines in the US can be a little misleading: ‘another death linked to vaping’ is designed to sensationalise and raise alarm. The e-cigarette device isn’t the culprit; it’s the bootleg THC liquid inside that has caused the problems in cases so far.

Vaping has been slowly growing in popularity throughout the UK for a number of years, largely due to how effective it is as a method of smoking cessation. It’s believed that at least 2.9 million people in the UK currently use e-cigarettes, yet no serious side effect has ever been reported.

“There is no situation where it would be better for your health to continue smoking rather than switching completely to vaping.”

-Public Health England

All official bodies in the UK still advise that vaping is safer than smoking; these reports do not change that. Experts stress that it would be unfortunate if frightening (albeit misleading) headlines were to drive people back to smoking cigarettes. To date, not a single person in the UK has died as a result of vaping, yet 220 people die every day due to smoking-related illness.

If you’d like to learn more about some of the restrictions in place to regulate e-liquid and cartridges, check out GOV.UK here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/e-cigarettes-regulations-for-consumer-products