Health and Science

FDA opens criminal probe of vaping deaths as health officials search for cause

Key Points
  • FDA has opened a criminal probe into the cause of an outbreak of vaping-related lung disease.
  • The mysterious illness has sickened 530 people and killed seven, FDA and CDC officials said.
  • The FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations opened a probe "shortly after" doctors started reporting the illnesses.
A man vapes at a store on September 17, 2019 in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration has opened a criminal probe into the cause of a mysterious vaping-related lung disease that has sickened 530 people and killed seven, an agency official said Thursday.

The agency's Office of Criminal Investigations opened a probe "shortly after" people started falling ill, Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, told reporters on a call Thursday.

"OCI has special investigative skills and the focus of their work is to identify what is making people sick, as well as a focus on the supply chain," he said. "Let me be clear, OCI is not pursuing any prosecutions associated with personal use of any controlled substances in these cases."

Investigators still haven't found a cause for the vaping-related lung disease that first starting showing up in doctors' offices across the country in July, U.S. health officials said. 

No consistent e-cigarette or vaping product, substance, additive or brand has been identified in all cases, nor has any one product or substance been conclusively linked to lung injury in patients.

Most patients report vaping THC, the compound that produces a high in marijuana, officials said. Many say they vape THC and nicotine, the addictive chemical used in e-cigarettes. Some of the patients, however, were only vaping nicotine.