'In desperate need of facts': FDA launches criminal probe as vaping illnesses jump to 530

Grace Hauck, USA TODAY

The Food and Drug Administration has launched a criminal probe into the recent spike in vaping-related illnesses, which has jumped to 530, health authorities said Thursday.

The confirmed cases, up from 380 last week, were reported by 38 states and one territory as of Sept. 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

CDC reported Thursday morning that seven deaths resulting from vaping-related illness have been confirmed in six states, and that more were likely to occur. By Thursday evening, the Missouri Department of Health confirmed that a man in his mid-40s died this week due to a vaping-related illness—the first in Missouri and the eighth nationwide.

“We are in desperate need of facts," said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.

Zeller said the criminal probe will not look into personal use of vaping-related products. Instead, the investigation will focus on the products, where they were purchased and how they are being used.

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The cause of the outbreak remains a frustrating mystery to health authorities. No consistent product, substance or brand has been identified in all cases, CDC said. Most, but not all, patients reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC, a psychoactive chemical found in cannabis.

The FDA has collected more than 150 vaping product samples for forensic analysis, and the agency is testing them for traces of nicotine, THC, and other cannabinoids, opioids, cutting agents, additives, pesticides, poisons, toxins and more.

“We are leaving no stones unturned," Zeller said.

While vitamin E acetate has shown up in some of the FDA's lab samples, no singular compound has shown up in all the samples, Zeller said.

Officials again warned consumers against buying vapes off the street or modifying vape products.

“People are dying," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at CDC. “We ask you to take these recommendations seriously.”

Of the hundreds of reported cases thus far, about three-fourths of the those diagnosed with an illness have been male, which is slightly over-representative of males in the general vaping population, CDC said.

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Young people have been particularly affected. More than half of those who have gotten sick are younger than 25, and 2 out of 3 cases are people between 18 and 34 years old.

In Illinois, which has seen 69 reported cases and one death, health officials are turning to the public for help in cracking the case.

“We are asking Illinois residents who have recently vaped to fill out an online, anonymous survey regarding their vaping habits," said Dr. Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Layden said no personal information would be collected in the survey, which is being advertised through social media.

“We’re not collecting any identifiers from any individuals, and the hope is that the individuals would want to help advance this investigation," Layden said.

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As e-cigarette maker Juul faces lawsuits across the country, politicians, businesses and individuals are taking action against the vaping industry.

On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and Peter King (R-NY) announced the formation of a new congressional caucus aimed at curbing the nation’s teen-vaping epidemic.

“We’re facing a true epidemic in this country,” DeGette said in a press release. “Congress has a responsibility to protect our public health. We’re going to be working tirelessly to make sure we keep these products out of the hands of our young people.”

Last week, President Donald Trump said he will seek to ban the sale of flavored vaping products in an effort to get young people to give up the potential dangers of e-cigarettes.

"It's causing a lot of problems and we're going to have to do something about it," Trump said after a White House meeting with health policy advisers this month.

Earlier this month, Michigan became the first state to ban sales of flavored e-cigarettes in stores and online, citing health concerns related to vaping. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a ban a week later. San Francisco banned e-cigarettes back in June, and other cities are now considering similar measures.

CBS, WarnerMedia and Viacom said this week that they will no longer run advertisements for e-cigarettes on their networks.

Many young people who previously vaped are taking to social media to warn their peers about the dangers of e-cigarettes. Miami teen Chance Ammirata, who was hospitalized with a vaping-related illness, has posted about his journey on Instagram with the hashtag "#lunglove."

"The fight has just begun," Ammirata said in a recent post.

Follow Grace Hauck on Twitter @grace_hauck.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vaping illness: Cases jump to 530 as FDA launches criminal probe