FDA Issues e-Cig Special Announcement: Seizures Reported after Vaping

It took decades to convince most Americans that smoking was harmful, but as health care professionals, we seem to have finally broken through the barriers and convinced most people that inhaling the incinerated byproducts of the tobacco plant directly into delicate lung tissue is a bad idea.

If you want to see the evidence, check out this nationwide this Gallup tracking poll, which asks a new generation of citizens a simple question each year:

So we’ve made headway. Reducing the prevalence of cigarette smoking to under 16% in the overall population in a span of 70 years is a cause for celebration. But humans are stubborn. And we tend to want to substitute one thing for another if we can, rather than giving it up entirely.

Enter the “innocuous” e-cigarette.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has been tracking voluntary reports of problems with tobacco products since 1988, and in 2010, eCigarettes, or “vaping” products, were added to those reports.

Now, according to FDA, “Since June 2018, the FDA observed a slight but noticeable increase in reports of seizures” among people who have used e-cigarettes, which prompted a review of similar reports to poison control centers.

The results of the FDA review were:

  • A total of 35 cases of seizures reported by e-cigarette users between 2010 and 2019
  • Seizures reported by both first-time users of e-cigarettes and experienced vapers
  • Seizures reported by e-cigarette users with and without a history of seizures
  • Seizures reported in association with e-liquids containing nicotine only and substances in addition to nicotine, including marijuana (cannabis) and amphetamines
  • A note of caution indicating that, due to the voluntary nature of the reporting system, more instances of seizures in e-cigarette users may have occurred, but not been reported

FDA also emphasized in its alert that convulsions/seizures are well-known side effects of nicotine toxicity and have been established in the literature when vaping liquids have been accidentally or intentionally ingested.

While manufacturers and advocates of “smokeless” nicotine delivery systems will no doubt continue to tout the “safety” of e-cigarettes (especially compared to the kind we’ve spent decades discouraging people from smoking). But the fact is, vaping and smoking are both a drug delivery system: When you vape, you are still converting something into a superheated gas, then inhaling it into delicate lung tissues, where it can cross the blood-brain barrier in a matter of seconds—and that process may trigger potentially unknown effects, including (potentially) seizures in susceptible individuals.

The point is, the FDA is rightfully raising yet another red flag about all the things we don’t yet know about the “safety” of vaping, and we should be seeking evidence-based answers now—hopefully before it takes seven decades to undo damage to public health based on false claims of product safety.

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