An outbreak of serious and life-threatening lung injuries from vape devices first identified in spring 2019 may be linked to nickel-chromium alloy heating elements rather than vitamin E oil or tetrahydrocannabionol (THC), as previously thought, according to early results in an experimental vaping study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The findings were observed during a larger study by researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) School of Medicine and the Huntington Medical Research Institutes (HMRI). The original study was designed to understand the effects of vaping on the cardiovascular system. But during experiments, researchers observed cases of EVALI (e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury) immediately after subjects were switched from a vape with a stainless steel heating element to one that used nickel-chromium.

“The results were so impactful, we felt it imperative to release the initial findings early so that electronic cigarette users could be cautioned sooner, especially considering e-cigarette users are at an increased risk of COVID-19,” senior author Robert A. Kloner, MD, Ph.D., said.

Researchers noted the issue in September 2019, after the vape device the team was using for their study was removed from the market and they had to switch to an alternative vape device. For most of the first year of the study, participants used vaping devices with a stainless-steel heating element both with and without additives. None of the participants developed respiratory distress and only one volunteer had less than 10% area of inflammation in their lungs.

After the new vape device with a nickel-chromium heating element was introduced, participants showed almost immediate distress.

“Within an hour of beginning an experiment, we observed evidence of severe respiratory distress, including labored breathing, wheezing, and panting,” Michael Kleinman, Ph.D., said. “After analyzing lung tissue from subjects in the study, we found them to be severely compromised and observed other serious changes such as lung lesions, red blood cell congestion, obliteration of alveolars spaces, and pneumonitis in some cases.”

The lung injury occurred without nicotine, THC, or vitamin E additives, the researchers said. Researchers pointed out that another possible cause may be due to a higher wattage of power settings on the vapes.

“While further research is needed, these results indicate that specific devices and power settings may play a key role in the development of EVALI as much as the additives do,” said Kloner. “The harms associated with E-cigarettes and vaping simply cannot be overstated.”

Vape litigation

Beasley Allen lawyers Joseph VanZandt and Sydney Everett, together with Mass Torts Section Head Andy Birchfield, are currently representing several individuals who are suing the top U.S. vape maker JUUL for the negative impact its products have had on their lives. Recognizing the critical threat to young people ensnared by nicotine addiction, and its effect on our nation’s educational system, our firm has also joined other nationally recognized law firms to represent school districts and public entities across the country in the fight to stop the school vaping crisis.

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