Vaping-related lung illnesses under investigation
Makers of e-cigarettes are getting hit with city, state and federal investigations of vaping-related lung illnesses, reported cases of seizures and industry marketing practices.
Milwaukee health officials are urging residents to stop using e-cigarette products, citing 16 people in Wisconsin who have been hospitalized with severe chemical lung inflammation. About 200 such cases mostly involving young vapers have been reported nationwide.
“I urge residents pay close attention to the poor health effects from using these products,” said Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy, who co-chairs the City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force.
Wisconsin joined Virginia and Maryland to report confirmed cases of lung illness associated with vaping. Patients reported having vaped in the weeks and months leading to hospitalization, with some admitting to using products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported a handful of people who had used devices from Juul, a leading e-cigarette company, triggered an investigation by federal health officials into whether e-cigarettes cause seizures.
The Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether e-cigarettes are linked to seizures or other neurological issues such as fainting or tremors.
From 2010 to 2019, the agency has received 127 reports from e-cigarette users who said they had seizures or tremors or fainted after vaping. An FDA review of adverse event reports on products used by e-cigarette users identified a total of 35 reported cases of seizures following vaping.
A Juul spokesperson said the company is aware of the initial report that pinpointed cases tied to vaping products, some of which referenced the company’s products.
“While the FDA has not reached out to us about this issue, we will vigilantly monitor for any evidence of potential safety issues and work cooperatively as we continue to combat youth usage and eliminate cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in the world,” the spokesperson said.
The FDA said it cannot identify a specific brand or sub-brand of e-cigarettes with regard to reported seizures and other neurological problems.
But an October email to former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb from Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said: “No proof of causality, but at a minimum, an association with Juul,” reported Bloomberg, which received the agency’s communications through a public records request.
Juul’s marketing practices also are being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The FTC would not confirm or deny the existence of the investigation to The Washington Times, noting that its investigations are not public.
Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said he welcomes a “fair-minded” FTC investigation of Juul’s marketing strategies.
“Juul may have been naive when it began marketing the product, but the company never intended to attract minors to its product,” Mr. Conley said. “What truly happened to Juul is actually a phenomenon that the FTC has not yet really considered — a product going ‘viral’ not through an effort by a particular company, but solely through social media memes and videos.”
Juul said it would not comment on any specific investigation, but said it fully cooperates and is transparent with any government agency or regulator.
The company asserts it never has marketed its products to youth.
“Our earliest marketing campaign in 2015 was intended for adults in the 25-34 year-old demographic and lasted for six months. If one views the sales and revenue data, there is no evidence that it drove use, youth or otherwise,” Juul said. “Nonetheless, we regret that the campaign was executed in a way that was perceived as appealing to minors.”
The e-cigarette maker said it changed its advertising approach to make sure there is no misinterpretation about the company’s intended customers: adult smokers 35 years or older.