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HSE checking all Irish vaping products for ingredient linked to US illnesses

More than 1,000 cases of vaping-related lung illnesses have been reported in the US, with 42 confirmed deaths in 24 states.

The New York State Department of Health released images of some of the products that have been found to contain this ingredient.
The New York State Department of Health released images of some of the products that have been found to contain this ingredient.
Image: New York State Department of Health

 AN ONGOING HSE review is checking e-cigarette products on the Irish market for the ingredient linked to a recent outbreak of lung illnesses in the US.

So far, none of the products on the Irish market have been found to contain the ingredient ‘vitamin E acetate’. 

More than 1,000 cases of vaping-related lung illnesses have been reported in the US, with 42 confirmed deaths in 24 states.

Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed it had identified ‘vitamin E acetate’ as a “chemical of concern” among people with e-cigarette-related illness.

Tests from 29 patients across 10 states found this ingredient in all of the samples. ‘Vitamin E acetate’ may be used as a thickening agent, particularly in THC-containing products. 

The New York State Department of Health also said earlier this month that its laboratory tests showed very high levels of ‘vitamin E acetate’ in nearly all cannabis-containing samples analysed as part of its investigation.

At least one vape product containing ‘vitamin E acetate’ has been linked to each patient who submitted a product for testing.

The HSE has said it undertook an immediate review of products in Ireland after these adverse health effects in the US.

“Our checks thus far indicate no Irish-based manufacturers with vitamin E acetate as a notified ingredient,” the HSE told TheJournal.ie.

‘Aggressive marketing’

Manufacturers who wish to place an e-cigarette product on the market are required to notify the HSE of its intention and to submit a full list of ingredients, quantities, toxicological data and a description of components. The manufacturer must also send a declaration that it bears full responsibility for the product’s safety and quality.

Last year, there were 1,538 of these new product notifications to the HSE. That number has risen to 5,362 so far this year. 

Paul Gordon, public affairs manager for the Irish Cancer Society, said the charity is concerned at these rising numbers.

He said the organisation has been looking at what has been happening in the US and is particularly worried at the “aggressive marketing to young people” by e-cigarette companies.

“In some cases, as was reported at a US congressional hearing, they were going into schools and offering talks on health promotion.”

While the most recent Irish research on e-cigarette use indicates the majority of users (99%) are former smokers, Gordon said there is a need to crack down on advertising that targets teenagers so that trends in the US are not replicated. 

“An overwhelming majority of US teens who use e-cigarettes used a flavoured product the first time,” he said. 

Health Minister Simon Harris has already said he intends to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to children and he is considering banning advertisements for these products near schools and playgrounds. 

He has also asked the Health Research Board to look at the potential harmful impacts of these products in general. Harris said he will decide on any further action once that research is complete in March next year. 

Lobbying

Harris’ department has witnessed repeated lobbying attempts by representatives of the e-cigarette and tobacco industry, as well as retailers in this market. 

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information by Noteworthy, the investigative journalism platform of TheJournal.ie, recently revealed the minister was contacted 11 separate times by associations or businesses connected to the vaping industry and Minister of State for Health Promotion Catherine Byrne was contacted by them five times.

Several emails from these representatives referenced statistics around smokers who used an e-cigarette to help them quit successfully. 

In April, the director of Vape Business Ireland wrote to Minister Byrne, citing the 2018 Healthy Ireland Survey which found that of those who successfully quit smoking in the past 12 months, 41% had used e-cigarettes. 

“Despite the mounting evidence, many involved in the anti-smoking policy formation in the State – including the Department of Health, the HSE an NGOs – continue to ignore the role vaping can play in supporting tobacco consumption reduction,” Michael Kenneally said.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) has told TheJournal.ie that none of the vaping products in Ireland have been authorised as medicinal products, ie as products that help people to stop smoking.

If a manufacturer intends to market their product as a tool for smoking cessation, they must go through the health watchdog. 

“In many cases, electronic cigarettes are not promoted for smoking cessation but as alternatives to cigarettes where smoking is not permitted (for example in the workplace, during travel etc) and in such cases they are subject to tobacco legislation,” the HPRA said. 

Where the vaping products are not marketed as a way to quit smoking, the manufacturers can go through the HSE notification system.

“If they want to market them as tools to help people to stop smoking, they should be applying to the HPRA, but none of them seem to be doing so,” the Irish Cancer Society’s Paul Gordon said. 

“There has been plenty of contact between them and TDs, we’ve seen increased engagement from e-cigarette and tobacco industry and representative bodies. They are trying to step into a space where it was effectively taboo to engage with the tobacco industry. 

They are trying to influence public health policy where tobacco has had no influence for a long time. It’s a real worry, we simply can’t let them use this as a Trojan horse. 

The HSE has said there was an increased number of assessments undertaken by its Environmental Health Service since issues in the US rose. 

It said statutory activities in this area will increase in 2020 as this market grows. These activities will include inspection, monitoring, surveillance, sampling and assessment.

Noteworthy wants to do an in-depth investigation into how much pressure the government is coming under from the vaping industry. It also wants to investigate the government and HSE position on vaping and whether there have been any adverse health effects reported here. Here’s how you can help support this proposal.

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