At least 200 people fell ill, two patients died: In the US, there are apparently first indications of the cause of the accumulation of previously unknown lung diseases, which could be related to the use of e-cigarettes.
The substance is an oil derived from vitamin E , the Washington Post reports, citing internal FDA (Food and Drug Administration) communications with government agencies in the affected states.
The substance was therefore detected in several so-called liquids. These are liquids that are evaporated. Several manufacturers are affected. The investigators had found the vitamin E acetate in samples of cannabis products that had previously smoked the patients. Some US states allow the sale of related THC products.
"No substance identified in all samples"
Vitamin E occurs naturally in various foods such as oils or nuts. As the Washington Post reported, because of its molecular structure, the substance may become hazardous by inhalation.
However, not all suspected cases are related to vitamin E acetate. "There is no substance, including vitamin E acetate, that has been identified in all samples," the FDA said. More information would be needed to better understand the link between specific products or substances and the reported cases of illness. Symptoms ranged from difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and chest pain to cases of gastrointestinal disorders with vomiting and diarrhea.
German experts: e-cigarettes less harmful than conventional cigarettes
German experts warn but from alarmism. "According to current studies, e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than conventional cigarettes," says Ute Mons of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) DER SPIEGEL. For example, studies on short-term effects have shown that the condition of patients with the COPD lung disease improved after switching to e-cigarettes. In addition, it is proven that e-cigarettes can help with smoking cessation.
Mons points out that the number of cases discussed in the US must be proportionate to the deaths caused by conventional tobacco consumption, which causes around 120,000 deaths each year in Germany alone.
What is the situation in Germany?
"The fact that the problems in the US have occurred in a relatively short period of time and are particularly affecting young people suggests that it is an acute problem in the US and not about long-term effects of e-cigarettes," says Frank Henkler-Stephani from the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).
According to the current state of knowledge, no increased risks for users of e-cigarettes in Germany are to be expected if they use products that comply with European and German regulations. However, steamers should generally look for symptoms such as breathing difficulties or chest pain, especially after a product change.
Overall, consumers in this country are somewhat better protected than in the US, says Henkler-Stephani. For example, manufacturers of liquids in Germany must report their formulations and the use of certain hazardous substances has been banned.
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However, Henkler-Stephani warns against unregistered self-mixing products that often contain no nicotine and are often marketed online. Since nicotine-free liquids are not covered by tobacco law, the corresponding provisions also do not have to be complied with. Absurdly, this might make liquids with nicotine safer in some cases.
For completely harmless experts do not hold e-cigarettes. The long-term effects of e-cigarettes are still unclear because they have not been on the market for so long. Insufficiently studied ingredients, impurities or new product features could increase the health risks, says Henkler-Stephani. For example, high performance "Subohm" models delivered up to 400 milliliters of the chemical vapor directly in the lungs. The effects are still largely unexplored.
"E-cigarettes are no miracle cure," says Mons. E-cigarettes would not bring everyone away from smoking. But for long-time smokers who do not get rid of their addiction, e-cigarettes could be an alternative. "Of course, the ideal is to stop completely and not even start," says Mons.