The U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to investigate a possible connection between e-cigarettes and seizures was prompted by a handful of reports involving JUUL, the trendy vaping brand popular with teens and young adults.
Bloomberg News was apparently able to access FDA communications through a Freedom of Information Act Request. Those documents revealed that the first three seizure reports received through the agency’s online portal specifically mentioned JUUL devices, though the FDA wasn’t able to formally verify the brand.
“No proof of causality, but at a minimum, an association with JUUL,” Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, emailed then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on October 15th.
According to Bloomberg, JUUL dominates the e-cigarette market, and the name is used by many as a substitute term for any e-cigarette. However, its report is the first to confirm that people who suffered seizures after vaping actually said they had used a JUUL device.
While the FDA’s investigation actually began in October 2018, the public was not informed until six months later. By that time, the agency had received 37 reports of seizures that occurred after vaping. Earlier this month, the FDA confirmed that the number of reports had grown to 127, all of which were logged between 2010 and 2019.
In some instances, victims experienced seizures after inhaling just a few puffs, while others suffered a seizure days after vaping. Some of the e-cigarette reports involved people with a previous history of seizures, and many involved minors.
So far, the FDA hasn’t officially identified any e-cigarette brand in its public communications.
JUUL Labs markets e-cigarette vaporizers that resemble a common USB drive and are easily concealed from parents and teachers. The corresponding nicotine pods come in a variety of candy and dessert flavors, which are popular with teens and young adults.
JUUL currently controls about 75% of the e-cigarette market and is the best-selling vaping brand among teenagers. Critics assert that the JUUL design, as well as the company’s use of social media and social media influencers, are part of a deliberate effort to target minors.
The FDA has been working to curb youth vaping, and last year raided JUUL Labs’ headquarters in San Francisco as part of an investigation into the company’s marketing practices.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee is also investigating JUUL, and in July released a report detailing the company’s efforts to sponsor presentations at schools around the country. In one email highlighted by the report, a JUUL employee even acknowledged the strategy was “eerily similar” to the tactics employed by tobacco companies in the past to target the youth market.
According to Bloomberg News, JUUL Labs informed the FDA of those plans in 2018, but later notified the agency that it was not moving forward with the scheme.