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Finding E-Liquids a ‘Threat to Small Children,’ CDC Reports Steady Rise in Poison Center Calls About Liquid Nicotine and E-Cigarette Products

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 03, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – E-cigarettes, and liquid refill containers featuring bright colors, sweet-smelling flavors and dangerous doses of nicotine, are generating rising numbers of emergency calls to poison control centers around the nation, according to a study published today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study demonstrates the urgent need for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to assert authority over e-Cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The CDC study released today showed the number of e-cigarette exposure calls per month to poison centers rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February of this year. “More than half (51.1 percent) of the calls to poison centers due to e-cigarettes involved young children 5 years and under, and about 42 percent of the poison calls involved people age 20 and older,” CDC officials wrote. The results are published in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Responsibly marketed and properly regulated, it is possible that e-cigarettes could benefit public health if they help significantly reduce the number of people who use conventional cigarettes and die of tobacco-related disease. But in the absence of FDA oversight, the easy availability of nicotine in uncontrolled quantities, packaging and flavors and marketing that appeals to youth raises serious concerns.

As reports regarding adverse health effects following e-cigarette exposure rise, it becomes ever more troubling that the FDA and the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have yet to release a proposed regulation to bring some oversight to the e-cigarette marketplace. FDA officials submitted their recommendations to the OMB six months ago.

Despite the fact that nicotine is toxic, e-cigarette liquids come in child-friendly flavors and colors. Nicotine liquids are sold in rainbows of brightly-colored containers with flavors including “vivid vanilla,” “cherry crush,” chocolate, Jolly Rancher, Gummy Bear and Bubble Gum. Because e-cigarettes and their nicotine liquids are unregulated, there are no federal requirements that they include safety warnings or child-proof packaging.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has 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.

E-cigarettes are also being marketed using the same tactics long used to market traditional 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, according to a CDC survey.

Last week, after New York Times reporter Matt Richtel wrote a compelling story about the incidents that have sparked calls to poison control hotlines, the Times’ Editorial Board wrote “with evidence of this public health hazard mounting, the administration needs to get moving before more people are harmed.” Six U.S. senators reiterated their call for the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes “to minimize the harm to public health not only of traditional tobacco products, but also the rapidly evolving market of nicotine products.” On Tuesday, the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Academy of Pediatrics, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Legacy signed a letter to President Obama urging that those regulations be published.