The WHO Carelessly Links Vaping to Seizures, Indicating Bias Against Vapes

Ignoring the available science on vaping, the WHO continues to spread misleading and inaccurate information facts on the topic, contributing to public confusion and hindering harm reduction efforts.

To the shock (but not surprise) of experts in the field of tobacco harm reduction, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently posted a tweet claiming that vaping increases the risk of seizures without citing evidence. Viewed over 300,000 times, this tweet sadly perpetuates harmful misinformation about vaping.

The WHO’s claim seems to stem from self-reported cases of seizures after vaping, despite the fact that these reports lack conclusive evidence linking vaping to seizures. In fact, the sources of the WHO’s claims are traceable to announcements made by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2019, based on these inconclusive reports. These accounts did not establish a causal link between vaping and seizures, as they lacked evidence of temporal association, with some individuals having pre-existing seizure disorders or using other drugs.

In fact, a 2020, a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (JAH) analysed 114 reports of seizures associated with vaping submitted to the FDA. Of these reports, 79 contained sufficient information for further analysis. Within these, the onset of seizures varied, occurring shortly after taking one puff or within weeks of vaping.

Moreover, while some seizures occurred within 24 hours of vaping, most reports did not specify the brand, nicotine strength, or source of the vaped product, hence could not even determine whether the vaped product was regulated or illicit. Finally, 43% of the reports involving youth and young adults, indicated concurrent use of medications known to cause seizures.

No causal link could be determined between vaping and seizures
Similar claims were made by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in 2022, citing a systematic review conducted by the Australian National University. However, this review acknowledged the lack of epidemiological evidence and emphasized the rarity of events related to seizures and vaping. In fact, a 2023 critique by tobacco control experts including smoking cessation expert Dr. Colin Mendelsohn, highlighted the insufficient evidence to establish a causal link between vaping nicotine and seizures.

To add insult to injury, highlighted Filter, that there are documented cases of nicotine mitigating seizures for certain medical conditions, information which the WHO would be privy to. Moreover, while the agency continues to propagate misleading information about vaping, it openly endorses nicotine replacement therapy products, some of which do have rare associations with seizures. This inconsistency underscores the WHO’s biased stance against vaping, which contradicts harm reduction practices and interferes with efforts to reduce smoking-related diseases and deaths worldwide.

The misinformation fed to the public
Sadly, this spread of misinformation has become so common that members of the public seem to have more access to inaccurate facts via official sources, than to accurate ones. For example, during a 2022 presentation for Parliament’s Health Select Committee on New Zealand’s Smoke-Free bill, the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP) had shared some inaccurate facts and concerns about local teen vaping trends, when in reality the then latest ASH Year 10 Snapshot survey, had shown that these concerns were misguided.

Responding to such alarmist reports, in August 2022 Dr. Colin Mendelsohn had launched a campaign called “Dr. Col’s Vape Truths.” This campaign comprises eight evidence-based videos correcting misconceptions about vaping. Mendelsohn had emphasized that vaping is substantially safer than smoking and debunked myths about its alleged harms, including the misconception that vaping causes serious lung damage or acts as a gateway to smoking.

A sad state of affairs
Sadly, over two years later Mendelsohn is still fighting the same battle. During a session where he gave evidence to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into vaping last week, he was shocked by the pervasive misinformation presented by purported experts, who were expected to possess greater knowledge.

In a recent blog, he revealed that these experts presented several misleading arguments, including claims that vaping serves as a gateway to smoking, increases youth smoking rates, and is as harmful as smoking. Additionally, they mentioned the harmful effects of nicotine on the adolescent brain, alongside the aforementioned association with seizures, whilst linking vaping nicotine to EVALI, a link that has long been clarified and put to rest.

This tragic state of affairs was clearly illustrated in a recent study. Published in Rutgers, the paper, “Perceptions about Levels of Harmful Chemicals in E-cigarettes Relative to Cigarettes, and Associations with Relative E-cigarette Harm Perceptions, E-cigarette Use and Interest,” revealed that most adult smokers, hence the portion of the population who would benefit most from using nicotine-based vapes, sadly perceive the products as containing the same amount of harmful chemicals as regular cigarettes, if not more.