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Poison Centers Warn of E-Cigarette Risks for Kids

PHOTO: The liquid used to fill e-cigarettes contains much more nicotine than the amount in a single, traditional cigarette. That's why poison control centers say it's critical to keep liquid nicotine away from children. Photo credit: thecarlinco/FeaturePics.com.
PHOTO: The liquid used to fill e-cigarettes contains much more nicotine than the amount in a single, traditional cigarette. That's why poison control centers say it's critical to keep liquid nicotine away from children. Photo credit: thecarlinco/FeaturePics.com.
January 26, 2015

PORTLAND - The Oregon Poison Control Center has seen a big increase in the number of calls about children and electronic cigarettes and it's part of a national trend.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers says e-cigarette incidents more than doubled last year, compared to 2013, and more than half involved children under age six.

The risk of ingesting a large amount of nicotine is significantly higher in liquid form than in cigarettes, says Dr. Zane Horowitz, medical director at the Oregon Poison Control Center.

"With these little cartridges, it doesn't take much to take the whole screw-cap off and squirt that liquid in your mouth," says Horowitz. "You can essentially get the equivalent of 20, 30 cigarettes within seconds and that could potentially be lethal in a child."

He notes the liquids are flavored, which increases their appeal to young children, and the refill bottles are not required to have childproof caps. The Oregon Poison Control Center fielded 84 calls about e-cigarettes last year, up from seven in 2011.

Many people think of addiction as the problem with nicotine, not poisoning. But Dr. Horowitz has a reminder that might prompt adults who use e-cigarettes to keep them out of the reach of children.

"Nicotine, while it's always been in cigarettes, it originally was a pesticide to kill bugs in liquid form," he says. "It was a pretty potent pesticide, and was taken off the market because of the number of people who were sickened by it."

A 1-year-old child in New York died last month after swallowing liquid nicotine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed regulating e-cigarettes, and could finalize those rules this spring.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR