The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced this week that it is looking into safety issues related to the use of e-cigarettes after the agency received reports of seizures among young adult users. A total of 35 cases were identified between 2010 and early 2019.
"While we believe that currently addicted adult smokers who completely switch off of combustible tobacco and onto e-cigarettes have the potential to improve their health, e-cigarettes still pose health risks," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.
Although the number of reported seizures may seem like an insignificant figure across a nine-year span, Gottlieb said the agency remains concerned that there might be a connection. Since 1988, the FDA has collected voluntary reports from tobacco users who have had adverse experiences. Last June, it noticed a slight increase in the number of seizures, prompting a full inquiry.
Though the agency admits it has yet to determine a direct link, it hopes that its announcement will persuade the public to come forward with additional reports. The FDA has not been able to locate a specific brand or sub-brand that could help better inform its investigation. A study from the University of California San Diego found over 460 brands of e-cigarettes and nearly 7,800 flavors on the market.
"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," Gottlieb's statement read.
E-cigarettes, which convert liquid substitutes of tobacco into aerosol, have become increasingly popular among middle and high school students.
A 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control Prevention revealed over 3.6 million users. E-cigarette use among high schoolers jumped from 220,000 students in 2011 to 3.05 million last year. Among middle school students, usage grew from 60,000 students in 2011 to 570,000 in 2018.
Amid growing scrutiny, multiple organizations have warned of potential health risks. Many e-cigarettes use e-liquids that contain nicotine, an addictive stimulant that promotes reward-motivated behavior such as smoking. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, surveys show that students who used e-cigarettes as early as the ninth grade were more likely than others to start smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products within the following year.
The FDA is also probing the effects of e-cigarettes on air quality, citing concerns that such changes could be a precursor to cancer.