Vaping link to seizures in young people being investigated by US authorities

FDA stresses it is not clear whether e-cigarettes have triggered episodes in dozens of users

Tom Barnes
Wednesday 03 April 2019 21:27 BST
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A possible link between vaping and seizures in young people is being investigated by US health officials after dozens of e-cigarette users reported episodes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it has reviewed details on 35 seizures suffered by individuals using nicotine-vaping devices, most of whom were young people.

Regulators were keen to stress it is not yet clear whether e-cigarettes are to blame for the incidents, but have asked members of the public to come forward if they have experienced similar problems.

“While 35 cases may not seem like much compared to the total number of people using e-cigarettes, we are nonetheless concerned,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “We believe these 35 cases warrant scientific investigation into whether there is in fact a connection.”

Cases reported to the FDA took place between 2010 and early 2019, although a spike in the number of reports began in mid-2018.

The agency said a lack of data had prevented it from identifying whether a specific brand of e-cigarette or nicotine liquid may be to blame for the incidents.

It also said it did not have enough information to establish if specific behaviours were linked to the incidents. Some reported seizures after their first time vaping, while others affected were experienced users.

Most e-cigarettes heat a flavoured nicotine solution, often referred to as an e-liquid, and turn it into an inhalable vapour.

Although the devices have grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, they are governed by relatively few regulations in the US.

Many e-cigarette models can be refilled with different types of nicotine liquid, which come in varying strengths, potentially allowing the user to obtain high levels of the chemical quickly.

This practice, whether intentional or accidental, could potentially cause nicotine poisoning, which has been known to trigger seizures, convulsions, vomiting and brain injury.

The FDA has previously warned of potentially fatal nicotine poisoning in infants and children who accidentally swallow e-cigarette solutions.

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“We want to be clear that we don’t yet know if there’s a direct relationship between the use of e-cigarettes and a risk of seizure,” Mr Gottlieb added. “We’re sharing this early information with the public because as a public health agency, it’s our job to communicate about potential safety concerns associated with the products we regulate that are under scientific investigation by the agency.”

In the UK, around three million adults are estimated to currently be using e-cigarettes, half of which have completely quit smoking as a result.

The NHS advises e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk of conventional cigarettes. A Public Health England study in 2015 found vaping is around 95 per cent less harmful than smoking.

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