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Poisoning Cases Related to E-Cigarettes Skyrocket

March 26, 2014


Across the United States, poison control centers are reporting a soaring number of accidental poisonings related to the nicotine liquid used in electronic cigarettes. These reports have spurred a growing call for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to finally regulate these products, including from newspaper editorials and U.S. senators.

The New York Times reported this week that the number of calls to poison control centers involving e-cigarettes and nicotine liquids jumped to 1,351 in 2013, tripling the number in 2012. Calls are on pace to double this year, the Times reports, citing information from the National Poison Data System. Many of the cases involve children.

In a story headlined “Selling a Poison by the Barrel: Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes,” Times reporter Matt Richtel wrote:

These “e-liquids,” the key ingredients in e-cigarettes, are powerful neurotoxins. Tiny amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal. A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child.

But, like e-cigarettes, e-liquids are not regulated by federal authorities. They are mixed on factory floors and in the back rooms of shops, and sold legally in stores and online in small bottles that are kept casually around the house for regular refilling of e-cigarettes.

Why is this happening? Despite the fact that nicotine can be toxic, these liquids often come in child-friendly flavors and colors. Nicotine liquids are sold in rainbows of bright containers with flavors including “vivid vanilla,” “cherry crush” chocolate, Jolly Rancher, Gummy Bear and Bubble Gum. Most containers lack warnings or child-proof packaging.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has now issued an alert on the devices and associated e-liquid supplies, urging “vapers” to take strong precautions to keep the materials in a secure place.

These poisoning incidents are yet another reason why the FDA must quickly regulate e-cigarettes, something the agency first said it would do three years ago.

E-cigarettes are also being marketed using the same tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids, including celebrity endorsements, race car sponsorships and slick magazine ads. A recent ad in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue featured an e-cigarette logo right in the middle of a skimpy bikini bottom.

It’s no wonder youth use of e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, when 10 percent of high school students reported ever having used e-cigarettes, according to a CDC survey.

There is a growing chorus for the FDA to quickly regulate e-cigarettes.

“The Obama administration remains asleep at the switch while makers of electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine, which is extracted from tobacco, are expanding rapidly with no meaningful regulatory oversight,” The New York Times editorialized on Tuesday. “With evidence of this public health hazard mounting, the administration needs to get moving before more people are harmed.”
Also on Tuesday, six U.S. senators reiterated their call for the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes.

“It’s time for the FDA to stop the sale of these candy-flavored poisons to our children. We urge FDA to move quickly in developing a regulatory structure to minimize the harm to public health not only of traditional tobacco products, but also the rapidly evolving market of nicotine products,” the senators wrote.

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) signed on to the letter.