“We are in desperate need of facts and evidence,” he said during a news briefing with the C.D.C. on Thursday. He said that there were multiple compounds showing up in the vaping mixtures, including Vitamin E acetate and other additives. He said that Vitamin E did not appear to be the sole factor but did not elaborate on other substances involved.
Mr. Zeller also said that the FDA’s office of criminal investigations has begun “parallel investigative efforts.” He declined to specify any target of those efforts or whether an enforcement action is forthcoming, but he did say that particular arm of the FDA has gotten involved because it “has special investigative skills.
Dr. Schuchat from the C.D.C. said she understood the desire for more precise information. “We absolutely want to do that,” she said but added that in providing partial information, officials might “prematurely reassure” consumers about the safety of a product that ultimately turns out to be problematic.
One outstanding question, for instance, is whether there might be any connection between the recent bust in Wisconsin of an alleged vaping ring and the outbreak of illnesses. The bust involved seizing 57 Mason jars filled with liquid thought to be THC, or contain it, and thousands of empty vaping cartridges.
The bust and the outbreak come against a backdrop of tremendous uncertainty, even confusion, at the federal level over the governance of both e-cigarettes and, more so, marijuana.
With e-cigarettes, the F.D.A. has for years been developing regulations and policy about what products to allow into the market and under what circumstances. Recently, a federal court ruled that the F.D.A. must demand that e-cigarette makers provide evidence by May of next year about their public health benefits or be pulled from the market.
The issue is even trickier with marijuana, which the federal government still considers to be a Schedule 1 drug, a category it shares with such deadly substances as fentanyl and heroin. Yet with nearly a dozen states having legalized marijuana, and nearly three dozen allowing medicinal use, the federal government has essentially stood on the sidelines, trying to balance the growing political momentum behind legalization — as well as a burgeoning industry of cannabis and hemp products — against the uncertain health effects and longstanding federal policy.