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Poisoning from e-cigarettes on the rise

Colored e-cigarettes Reuters.jpg

A window display with different color models of electronic cigarettes. (REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

Poisoning from e-cigarettes is on the rise, according to a new government report.

Researchers found a steady and rapid increase in the number of calls to poison control centers about e-cigarettes and the liquid nicotine used in them, according to the study, released April 3 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of 215 calls involving e-cigarettes were made to U.S. poison control centers in February 2014, up from one call in September 2010, said researchers who examined data from poison centers over that period.

More than half of these calls involved children age 5 and younger, and about 42 percent involved people age 20 and older who were poisoned by ingesting liquid nicotine, or absorbing it through the skin, according to the study. [10 Scientific Quit-Smoking Tips]

Liquid nicotine is sold to refill e-cigarettes, the battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals through a vaporizer. The nicotine is typically contained in a cartridge that users insert into the e-cigarette.

Due to high concentrations of nicotine, a small amount of the liquid can be deadly, especially for children, medical experts say.

"Use of these products is skyrocketing, and these poisonings will continue," said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden."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."

For the study, researchers examined all calls to poison centers in which callers stated the reason for their call was exposure to conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes or nicotine liquid used in e-cigarettes.

Poison centers received 2,405 calls related to e-cigarettes, and 16,248 calls about cigarettes, between September 2010 and February 2014, according to the report.

In September 2010, 0.3 percent of all calls about any cigarettes or liquid nicotine were due to e-cigarettes. By February 2014, the number had jumped, and 41.7 percent of all such calls were due to e-cigarettes, the researchers found.

Poisoning from conventional cigarettes most often involves young children who ate the cigarettes. Poisoning from liquid nicotine can occur not only by ingestion, but also inhalation or absorption through the skin or eyes.

In about 70 percent of cases, poisoning from liquid nicotine occurred because a person ingested the chemical. About 17 percent of the cases occurred from inhalation, and about 15 cases reported absorption through the skin or the eye.

The most common adverse health effects mentioned in e-cigarette calls were vomiting, nausea and eye irritation. One suicide death from nicotine liquid was reported to poison centers.

The number of calls per month involving conventional cigarettes did not show an increase during the same time period.

Recently, studies have found e-cigarette use is growing, and is becoming popular among teenagers.

"Now, this report shows e-cigarette-related poisonings are also increasing rapidly," said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health."Health care providers, e-cigarette companies and distributors, and the general public need to be aware of this potential health risk from e-cigarettes."

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