Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
The Food and Drug Administration revealed that it’s opened a criminal investigation into the hundreds of Americans who have been hospitalized with mysterious, vaping-linked lung injuries.
The scope of that investigation or who investigators may have spoken to is unclear. But the FDA’s law enforcement arm, the Office of Criminal Investigations, announced it started generally looking into the illnesses after a rash of vaping-related hospitalizations cropped up this summer, according to NBC News.
The agency emphasized that people who admit to vaping illicit substances aren’t at-risk of being charged — a fear that’s apparently kept people from telling investigators and health officials what they might’ve been vaping before they fell ill.
“The focus is on the supply chain,” Mitch Zeller, director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, told the Washington Post.
Many of the 530 vaping-related illnesses recently reported to the CDC have been linked to people inhaling black-market THC oil. Since those cases started appearing — often resulting in symptoms like shortness of breath, vomiting and chest pain — seven people have died, the latest this week in California. While the CDC said many of those who have become sick are men between the ages of 18 and 34, the deaths have primarily occurred among older smokers with previous health conditions.
The CDC has not yet established a single, common link between all the illnesses, but has put its investigators and public health workers on the case. Some of the THC oils tested by New York State also contained vitamin E acetate, although it’s unclear how much that may have contributed to reported illnesses.
The FDA is also testing 150 vaping product samples to see if they contain substances like painkillers, poisons, and toxic chemicals, according to the Wall Street Journal. But it’s unclear whether the agency’s focus is primarily on the companies that make, manufacture, or market vape and THC juices.
Cover image: The vapor cloud produced by a man with an e-cigarette in London. Picture date: Thursday September 19, 2019. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire URN:45385895 (Press Association via AP Images)