South Korea finds some liquid e-cigarette products have ingredient linked to lung illness

A man holds an electronic cigarette as he vapes at a Vape Shop in Monterrey

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean health authorities have found vitamin E acetate, which may be linked to lung illnesses, in some liquid e-cigarette products made by Juul Labs and KT&G, they said on Thursday, but the two companies denied using the material.

The results followed an analysis of seven key ingredients in 153 liquid e-cigarettes carried out by the food and drug safety ministry, after a spate of severe lung injuries tied to the devices in the United States.

"With the findings of harmful substances like vitamin E acetate and flavorings included in liquid e-cigarettes, we once again advise you to stop using liquid e-cigarettes," the ministry said in its statement.

South Korea's health watchdog said it had identified a small amount of vitamin E acetate in 13 vapes.

These included U.S. e-cigarette maker Juul Labs' flavored "crisp" and South Korean maker KT&G's flavored "SiiD tobac" for its Lil Vapor device.

But the watchdog has not found any of the marijuana ingredient THC, it added.

The South Korean office of Juul Labs has reiterated that its products did not contain vitamin E acetate, adding that it was closely analyzing the results and would "actively communicate" with the relevant ministries.

KT&G said it had never used the substance as an ingredient and its own tests had found none of it.

Last month, U.S. health officials said vitamin E acetate was found in all lung samples from 29 patients with vaping-related injuries.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called vitamin E acetate a "chemical of concern" and recommended not adding it to e-cigarettes or vaping products while the investigation proceeds.

In October, South Korea's health ministry advised people to stop vaping because of growing health concerns, especially after a case of pneumonia was reported in a 30-year-old e-cigarette user that month.

The announcement prompted convenience store chains and duty free shops to suspend the sale of flavored liquid e-cigarettes made by Juul Labs and KT&G.

South Korea is the world's No.2 market of heat-not-burn e-cigarettes after Japan, worth $1.7 billion, according to Euromonitor, but liquid e-cigarettes are less popular.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Hyunjoo Jin and Clarence Fernandez)