With an increase in the reported cases of illnesses caused by electronic cigarettes, US poison centres have issued a warning to parents to ensure that these electronic devices are store in places where children will not be able to reach them. The symptoms included vomiting and nausea.
The warning from the American Association of Poison Control Centres was prompted by a steep increase in the number of calls received, reporting instances of the ill-effects of exposure to electronic cigarettes or the nicotine laced smoking liquid. There were 269 calls made in the US in 2011, increasing to 459 in 2012 and 1414 in 2013. During the current year, 651 cases were reported till March 24.
Just over half of the cases involved children of less than six years, of which few were in a serious condition requiring medical aid at the emergency room.
Electronic cigarettes are still not regulated in the US. The device converts an e-liquid into a vapour which the user inhales. E-liquid contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance, flavourings like bubble gum and chocolate as well as other chemicals.
Users of these electronic devices which are often designed to mimic traditional cigarettes are called vapers rather than smokers. The smoking liquid is available in containers of even a gallon and is used to refill electronic cigarettes. The concentrated e-liquid can be lethal to small children if ingested in quantities as small as one teaspoonful. Absorption of e-liquid through the skin or accidental ingestion can result in seizures and vomiting.
Kentucky Regional Poison Center’s director, Ashley Webb, states that concentrated smoking liquid is toxic even if the quantity involved is small and the danger lies not only in ingesting the liquid but even mere contact with the person’s skin can cause illness.
The AAPCC recommends that adults should use appropriate protective gear while handling the e-liquid and should keep the liquid under lock and key in a place not accessible to children. The empty containers must also be disposed with due care, ensuring that children and pets are not endangered by the left-over liquid and residues.
A toxicologist at the California Poison Control System, San Diego Division, Lee Cantrell noted a 10 times jump in the cases of children exposed to e-cigarettes or e-liquids during the period January 2013 to February 2014. He found that there were instances of improper handling of these products like one who mistakenly used it as eye drops while another swallowed it as a pill.
According to him, adults not handling the large containers with due care, have spilled e-liquid on their skin causing their heart rate to increase and resulting in vomiting and nausea. He warns that the effects on children would be worse and advises that children should be kept away from these products.
JAMA Pediatrics published a study involving 40,000 young people which revealed that youth who used e-cigarettes as adolescents were much more prone to take up smoking conventional cigarettes. Another study by San Francisco based University of California showed that the number of electronic cigarette users among high and middle school students went up from 3.1% in 2011 to 6.5% in 2012 – an increase of over 100%.
Postdoctoral fellow at University of California’s Tobacco Control Research and Education, Lauren Dutra who is the lead author opines that e-cigarettes are the starting point of nicotine addiction among young people and creates an entirely new market for tobacco products.