They smell like candy, with flavors like pink bubblegum, mint chocolate, lemonade, cherry and snicker doodle, yet the liquid nicotine used to fill e-cigarettes can be extremely harmful, even deadly for children.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that accidental poisonings from e-cigarettes’ liquid nicotine are on the rise.
During February, poison centers received 215 calls related to e-cigarettes. By comparison, during September 2010, poison centers took just one call involving e-cigarettes.
Even more troubling, of the calls to the poison center, the CDC reports that more than half involved children age 5 and under.
“What’s dangerous about liquid nicotine is the drug itself can be easily absorbed anywhere in the body,” said Michelle Bestic, a clinical pharmacologist and toxicologist with Akron Children’s Hospital. “Even if they don’t drink the entire bottle, but spill it on their hands, exposure to the liquid nicotine can cause damage to children.”
Another concern is the concentration of the nicotine contained in the liquid version. While the FDA recently proposed new regulations, there are currently no restrictions regarding the concentrations – and no rules about selling the product in childproof packaging.
“You may have up to 10 percent concentrated nicotine in the solution,” said Bestic, who points out that the liquid can be purchased in anything from small bottles to gallon-sized containers. “And there’s nothing on the package to indicate that it’s harmful for children.”
The symptoms for children who have ingested liquid nicotine include:
- Irregular heart rate
For parents who use e-cigarettes, Bestic suggests that you avoid using them when kids are around. If they see you using an e-cigarette, they’ll be intrigued about it.
She also recommends that you lock up the e-cigarettes in a childproof compartment and keep them out of sight.
Even if you don’t use e-cigarettes, you might still discuss with your children the risks of liquid nicotine.
For younger children, remind them that they should never drink or open anything if they don’t know what it is. With teens, you might caution them about e-cigarette use when talking about the health risks posed by regular cigarettes.
“Parents can let teenagers know there’s still no long-term studies on the effects of e-cigarettes – it’s not a safe alternative to cigarettes,” Bestic said.
If you suspect that your child has ingested or come in contact with liquid nicotine, take him to the ER immediately for treatment.
“Liquid nicotine has been shown to start affecting children quickly – in as little as 15 to 20 minutes,” Bestic said.