In April, the FDA announced that they were going to start investigating “nearly three dozen cases of people suffering from seizures after vaping”. According to a statement issued on April 3, the FDA received 35 reports, over 10 years, of people experiencing these mysterious seizures. The FDA also insisted that they don’t have any clear pattern and that they “don’t yet know if there’s a direct relationship between the use of e-cigarettes and a risk of seizure”.
Now, only 4 months later, the FDA claims to have received 127 individual reports of people suffering seizures after vaping. That’s 92 new reports in addition to the original 35 and, while these numbers may sound alarming, it’s important to recognize that these reports include incidents over a 10-year span. More important, and less well-covered in the media, are the standards the FDA is using in collecting these reports.
After their initial announcement, then-Director Scott Gottlieb called on the American people to submit reports that may fit their hypothesis that vaping causes seizures. Despite his careful attempt at feigning neutrality on the subject, the message was clear: The FDA needs vaping to pose real, tangible health concerns and we need your help establishing that it does. So far, various bodies and institutions have tried inciting panic over heart attacks, explosions, various lung conditions, and now seizures. In every case so far, the myth of vape-related illnesses has been decisively disproven.
In this case, there are some vital pieces of information buried below the surface of the FDA’s report. 127 people claim they had seizures after vaping, but the timelines are wildly inconsistent. Some people had a seizure shortly after vaping, others had one days later. Some of these vapers had just started and others had vaped for years. Most damning, however, is the fact that most of these people had been previously diagnosed with a seizure condition. Yeah, you read that correctly. People with pre-existing seizure conditions were not ruled out in this data collection campaign.
The astonishing lack of scientific integrity behind this latest smear campaign absolutely boggles the mind, even for someone who has been doggedly covering every twist and turn in the coordinated attack on vaping.
To recap, the FDA made a request of the public: if you’ve ever had a seizure and you vape, give us a call and report it so we can add it to our list. By these criteria, I myself easily could have made #128 on their list. I’ve had approximately a half dozen seizures since I was 21 and I also vape. It’s clear to everybody in my life, and certainly to my doctors, that the two are wholly unrelated, but the FDA doesn’t seem to care about making that distinction.
Another little nugget ignored by most reports is that several people on this list were using illicit drugs at the time of their seizure. Just logically speaking, this should eliminate most of the remainder on this list. For every person who reported using illicit drugs during their seizure event, it’s safe to assume there’s another one or two who neglected to mention their prescription medication. Benzodiazepines are notorious for causing seizures. Alcohol can also lead to seizures. If the FDA is included people on their list who a) have seizure disorders, b) were using illicit drugs at the time of seizure, and c) may have been drinking or using prescription benzos, it’s safe to say their entire list is scientifically worthless.
Furthermore, the disparity in each individual case on their list blows their hypothesis out of the water. Even if we leave in the 60 or so individuals without seizure disorders, each of these reports tell completely different stories. If vaping were causing seizures, a number of things would have to be true. First, it would be much more widespread given the massive popularity of vaping. Secondly, these stories would have some semblance of uniformity to them.
For instance, heroin can lead to overdose and death. In every case of this happening, a person uses heroin, it turns out to be too much for their system, and they enter into a comatose state before they die if they aren’t resuscitated. We all know that this condition is a direct effect of heroin because it happens like this every time. Heroin -> Unconsciousness -> Death. The details between cases may be slightly different, but the result is the same, every single time.
Likewise, if vaping caused seizures, it would do so in a consistent fashion. Maybe people who vaped for a long time would begin to experience seizures after enough exposure. Or people with certain susceptibilities would have a seizure immediately after hitting a vape for the first time. Or a certain type of illegal vape causes seizures in people due to its unregulated nature. But this isn’t the pattern described in the FDA report. In fact, the FDA says themselves that they still have no clear pattern, even after 127 different reports.
Scientifically, if you have 127 discrete data points with no overarching pattern, you absolutely cannot argue causation. In this case, there is no doubt that 127 people have had seizures and that they also vape – but those are the only facts in play here. There is very clearly no link between the two and when you remove the people from that list who have pre-diagnosed seizure conditions, you’re left with an extremely rare side effect of vaping, even if it were somehow proven that the two were linked.
For comparison’s sake, let’s look at an actual seizure condition, i.e. photosensitive epilepsy. A relatively rare form of epilepsy, this ailment can lead to seizures triggered by the flashing lights and colors in video games. Approximately 3,000,000 people in the world have this condition, and it’s why certain video games are required to flash that little warning screen as they load up. Compare that with the 60 or so people who may have possibly had a seizure somehow related to vaping. That breaks down to roughly a 0.00056% chance of having a seizure from vaping. A fraction of a fraction, even if causation is found.
Incredible, then, that every news story covering this topic leads with a headline like “FDA investigates dozens of reports of seizures from vaping”. One might almost begin to think there’s an agenda in play here but surely that would be paranoid?