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Can vaping trigger seizures?

U.S. health officials are investigating dozens of reports of people experiencing seizures after using vaping devices, including JUUL devices that are popular among children, teens, and young adults.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is looking into 35 reports of vape-related seizures, many of which involve minors. The voluntary adverse reaction reports, which could represent just a sampling of the problem, go back to 2010.

“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,” then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy said in a statement.

The FDA says that the reports lack sufficient details to establish a clear pattern or cause for the seizures. For instance, the vape brand or sub-brand isn’t specified in some of the reports. Seizures have also been reported after first-time vape device use as well as among experienced vapers. In some cases, users reported a prior history of seizures and seizure diagnosis.

Scott Gottlieb, who left the FDA at the end of April, began his post as the agency’s chief as a supporter of the vaping industry. That changed when reports emerged that vape products had become wildly popular among school students and young adults, prompting Mr. Gottlieb to become the country’s leading crusader against the devices.

This new “epidemic” of nicotine addiction among U.S. youth, as Mr. Gottlieb called it, saw a rise in vaping among middle and high school students of 900 percent from 2011 to 2017. In 2018, vape device use increased 78 percent among high school students, soaring from 11.7 percent in 2017 to 20.8 percent. Last year, data indicated that more than 3.6 million U.S. youth, including one in five high school students and one in 20 middle school students, currently vape.

Illustration of JUUL vaping device and pods
Illustration of JUUL vaping device and pods

U.S. health officials largely attribute this vaping epidemic to device manufacturer JUUL, which launched in 2017 and quickly captured 71 percent of the vaping market. Taking advantage of the unregulated vaping market, JUUL aimed its marketing campaigns at U.S. youth, increased the level of nicotine in its pods to as much as five percent, and even designed its device to look like a USB device, making them easy to hide in plain sight and recharge.

The explosion of vaping among U.S. youths began as levels of conventional tobacco and cigarette usage fell to their lowest levels in years, reversing decades of hard-won gains the fight to end nicotine addiction.

Although medical experts aren’t certain why vaping is causing some vapers to suffer seizures, they are well aware of the health risks nicotine poses, especially in people younger than 25 years old – the age when the brain has fully developed. Researchers know that nicotine can have a permanent, negative impact on the structure, plasticity, and neurochemical makeup of the developing brain.

According to the FDA, seizures following vape device use could be caused by quickly inhaling excessive amounts of nicotine – something that JUUL devices may facilitate, especially with vape-juice formulations containing 5% nicotine.
The FDA cautions that its investigation of the potential link between vaping and seizures is ongoing and inconclusive, but says it’s important that consumers have access to information about the risks vape devices and products pose.

“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,” the FDA statement said.

Beasley Allen lawyer Joseph VanZandt is representing individuals who suffered seizures while using vaping devices like JUUL, or after vaping.

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