Study: E-cigarette poisonings surge in children

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From January 2012 to April 2015, poison center calls rise 1500% for e-cigarettes. (WPVI)

Electronic cigarettes have become a rising danger to small children.

Child safety experts are calling it an epidemic.

The number of children who have gotten sick from electronic cigarettes has sky-rocketed 15-fold in just over three years.

Roughly once every 3 hours, poison control centers get a call about a young child touching an e-cigarette, inhaling its vapor or swallowing liquid nicotine.

About 90-percent of the injuries are from swallowing, and the effects can be deadly.

"It can cause severe medical outcomes among children, including coma, seizures, and respiratory arrest which is when a child stops breathing. In this study, we even had one death due to exposure to liquid nicotine," says Dr. Gary Smith, of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

In July, e-cigarette makers will be required to put liquid nicotine in child-resistant bottles.

Many experts also want a ban on nicotine that comes in flavors that are attractive to kids, like fruit and candy.

The researchers say the results highlight a need for better parent awareness about the importance of keeping the devices out of sight and reach of young kids.

They also recommend stricter regulation and applauded long-awaited restrictions the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued last Thursday.

The study looked at children's exposure for both nicotine and tobacco products, and found the electronic cigarettes are the most worrisome.

The results were published Monday in the journal Pediatrics .


Monthly calls about young kids' swallowing, inhaling or touching e-cigarettes climbed from 14 early on to 223 by the study's end. Calls totaled 4,128 during the study. Most children were age 2 or younger.

The cases represent 14 percent of the nearly 30,000 calls about kids' exposure to nicotine and tobacco products during that time.


Liquid nicotine in e-cigarettes can harm young children if swallowed or absorbed into the skin. Vomiting, a quickened heartbeat and jittery behavior are among the symptoms. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends calling poison centers if exposure is suspected.


Dr. Joan Shook, chief safety officer at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston and head of the American Academy of Pediatrics' emergency medicine committee, called the poisonings "a huge public health issue."

"Many emergency physicians are going, 'What the heck, this is really a problem, why aren't they doing anything about it?'" she said.

"If you use these products, you need to treat them as medication or toxins and keep them closed, locked and out of reach of children," said Shook, who wasn't involved in the study.

Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, noted that more recent data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers indicate that exposures to liquid nicotine may be on the decline.

However, the most recent numbers don't indicate whether the decrease includes young children. He said most vaping liquid products use child-resistant packaging.


The FDA rules issued last week will require federal review of the devices and their ingredients, imposing restrictions similar to those affecting traditional cigarettes.

The agency intends to issue rules to require nicotine exposure warnings and child-resistant packaging.

That action would supplement the Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention law, which takes effect this summer and will require child-resistant packaging of liquid nicotine containers.

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