E-cigarettes — battery-powered devices that let users inhale nicotine-infused vapors — now account for more than 40 percent of all poison center calls about cigarette-type products, according to a report published last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (NBC News 4/3/14)
According to the CDC study there were 215 reported poisonings due to ingestion of e-cigarette fluids in February of this year. According to the report 51% of the calls involved children 5 and under. From September 2010 to February 2014 there were 2,405 calls related to e-cigarettes to the nation’s 55 poison control centers and about 16, 248 calls related to traditional cigarettes. There was only one reported poisoning from tobacco products in the month of September 2010.
“This report raises another red flag about e-cigarettes – the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can be hazardous,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Use of these products is skyrocketing and these poisonings will continue. E-cigarette liquids as currently sold are a threat to small children because they are not required to be childproof, and they come in candy and fruit flavors that are appealing to children.”
The debate still goes on as to the possible health benefits of e-cigarettes. Manufacturers claim these e-cigs will help people switch from the more dangerous traditional cigarettes. Yet, as I reported more recently, the concern is rising as middle school children, who have never smoked a traditional cigarette, are beginning to take up the trendy ‘vaping’—the term used to describe the smoking of the e-cigarettes. These children may not realize the potential dangers of handling the nicotine solutions.
Poison centers are getting calls about the liquid being spilled on the skin, mistakenly used as eye drops, or ingested. At least one person committed suicide by injecting the liquid nicotine into his or her veins. The most common adverse health effects mentioned in e-cigarette calls were vomiting, nausea and eye irritation.
Kids are the biggest worry — as little as a teaspoon of highly concentrated liquid nicotine could cause serious harm, said Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California poison control system. Reports of poisonings in kids jumped 10-fold at his site in the past 14 months.
“I went online and found some retailers selling concentrations of 7.2 percent nicotine in 100-milliliter bottles,” Cantrell said. “A teaspoon of that solution could potentially kill a child, there’s no doubt.”
The e-cigarette manufacturers continue to claim their products are safe and provide a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. The evidence to support that claim is not available to us yet. However, the CDC report is a strong reminder that nicotine, in any delivery system, is dangerous. The liquid solution sold for e-cigarettes contains pure nicotine, which causes harm to the body when spilled onto the skin, placed in the eyes or ingested. If you have liquid nicotine in your home and you have children, treat it just like you would any other poisonous product in your house. The safest way to prevent harm from these products, however, is to keep them out of your home.