The Food and Drug Administration, a federal agency known for its hyper-vigilance, is investigating nearly three dozen seizures that occurred after the use of e-cigarettes.
Over the last 9 years (from 2010-2019), the FDA said in an announcement on Wednesday that it’s received 35 reports of people – mostly kids and young adults – suffering from seizures after vaping. And though it’s taken nearly a decade for the investigation to begin, the FDA believes there’s enough data to prompt a closer look at e-cigarettes.
Still, though, the agency is unclear as to whether vaping actually caused the seizures in the first place, or if the 35 recorded cases are simply a result of the popularity of e-cigarettes.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy said in Wednesday’s statement:
“While 35 cases may not seem like much compared to the total number of people using e-cigarettes, we are nonetheless concerned by these reported cases.”
The liquid turned into vapor by e-cigarettes is intentionally high in nicotine, and when ingested in large doses, nicotine poisoning can result – causing nausea, sweating, dizziness, and you guessed it, seizures.
One concern is that e-cigarettes are seen as a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, and because of that users are vaping far more often than they would smoke. Even if e-cigarettes don’t produce tar and other harmful chemicals, the vaping liquid is still highly potent and full of nicotine, and a higher frequency of use will result in more nicotine consumption.
But as it stands, that’s only a theory, as the FDA has yet to confirm any link between e-cigarettes and increased seizure risk.
“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,” remarked Gottlieb and Abernethy.
Some of the people who experienced seizures after vaping had a history of seizures, while others had no relatable pre-existing conditions. Some were first-time vapers, while others were regular users, and in a few cases, there were drugs involved, like methamphetamines and marijuana.
In short, there’s a laundry list of variables for the FDA to dig through, and the chances of an e-cigarette ban look slim. Gottlieb and Abernethy reiterated in their announcement that though a link between vaping and seizures seems unlikely, it’s still their duty to alert Americans to any suspected hazards:
“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.”
As a result, tobacco stocks dropped virtually across the board at the open of Wednesday’s trading session. Shifting to meet the demands of young customers, companies like Altria (NYSE: MO) and Phillip Morris (NYSE: PM) have both recently branched out, making e-cigarettes a priority for their businesses going forward.
And though most of their sales are still wrapped up in regular, old fashioned tobacco cigarettes, investors are concerned that an FDA ban on vaping could significantly diminish future revenues.
Now, nobody has a crystal ball, but based on the information included in the FDA’s statement, it appears as though other factors may have been the root cause of the 35 seizures that are set to be examined. If Nicotine was the trigger (and not another chemical found in the vaping liquid) then the e-cigarette manufacturers will have little to worry about.
Plenty of products in the past have been identified by the FDA to increase the risk of “something”. That might be the risk of seizures, comas, or in some rare cases, even death.
Sound familiar? It should – it’s the disclaimer on nearly every prescription drug commercial on television. The fact is, though, that these cases are extremely rare, almost to the point of statistical insignificance.
The FDA estimates that there are 12.5 million adult e-cigarette users in the United States. Excluding the under-18 crowd (who have taken to vaping as well), that means that 0.00028% of (reported) e-cigarette users experienced seizures after vaping.
And these weren’t just cases where ONLY nicotine from e-cigarettes was ingested. Sometimes, other drugs were too, and some users had a history of seizures.
So, while it might be tempting for big-tobacco investors to sell the news on the FDA’s announcement, the fact is that it shouldn’t be a significant source of concern. The FDA is just doing their job here by alerting the public on the infinitesimally small odds of an increased risk of seizure for e-cigarette users.
Even if a link between vaping juice and seizures is found, further regulation would likely require a simple disclaimer on product packaging and at e-cigarette vendor locations.
The FDA slapped those warnings on tobacco and alcohol products decades ago, and it hasn’t stopped those industries from growing. In fact, they’re doing better than ever, because as we’ve seen before, long-term consumers of the “vice” industries simply don’t care.