The Dangers of E-Cigarette Exposure to Children
Highly unregulated, the sale of toxic nicotine concoctions for e-cigarette refills pose a serious threat to young children. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution, converting it into a vapor users are able to inhale. The solution may contain varying amounts of nicotine and come in hundreds of flavors, including enticing flavors like bubble gum, peanut butter and jelly, chocolate, grape and orange cream.
Recent figures released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this year show a massive rise in calls to poison control centers related to accidental swallowing of liquid nicotine contained in e-cigarette refill cartridges. These rose from one call in September 2010 to 215 a month by February 2014; more than half the calls involved children under the age of five.
Researchers who analyzed the data said:
“The exploratory nature of young children and the attractive packaging of refills is a dangerous combination likely to lead to a growing incidence of accidental exposure to concentrated nicotine solution.”
Nicotine can be lethal in adults at doses as low as 40 mg, with the threshold for children likely to be much lower at around 1mg per kg of weight. Nicotine cartridge refills are commonly available in various strengths, ranging from 6 mg/l (0.6%) to 36 mg/l (3.6%). At the higher strength, just a few drops could have serious effects on young children. Children are at risk for accidental poisoning when parents, caregivers or others inadvertently leave these products within reach.
Severe nicotine poisoning can cause dangerous irregular heartbeat, coma, convulsions, and prompt cardiac arrest. An additional risk not found with other tobacco products, liquid nicotine is absorbed through the skin. With the lack of childproof containers, along with colorful packaging and flavorings, it is not surprising that e-cig refills are targets for curious children. Furthermore, the nicotine is dissolved in a cocktail of unknown other chemicals with potential toxicity. These products are constantly changing formulas, often come from questionable sources and dosage strengths are not guaranteed, making them all the more dangerous for children.
Teens too are involved in e-cig use and may face lifelong health consequences from this use. In a study published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers found that use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among US adolescents. The percentage of U.S. middle and high school students who use e-cigs more than doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 4.7% to 10%. In 2012, more than 1.78 million middle and high school students nationwide had tried e-cigarettes, which tend to be more socially acceptable than regular cigarettes. Research suggests that the devices appear to be a gateway to future nicotine addiction among teens.
Electronic cigarette studies highlight the dangerous exposure potential for children and teens. Regulation and legislation to improve the safety of the e-liquids and their containers is needed. Keep all nicotine products out of children’s reach and talk to teens about the risks of nicotine use.