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The Truth About E-Cigarettes: A Potential Poisoning Hazard

Posted: September 14th, 2010 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Tony Burda DABAT and Sheri VanOsdol Pharm.D.

Recently the Illinois Poison Center (IPC) received a call from a parent whose toddler ingested some contents of an e-cigarette cartridge containing nicotine.  We could find very little information addressing the accidental poisoning potential of these products in children, so we thought we’d share some information with you based on our findings. 

Electronic cigarettes or “e-cigarettes” are battery-powered tubes that heat liquid nicotine stored in a cartridge, into an inhalable vapor that looks and tastes like smoke from a regular cigarette.  These products are touted to be “safer” alternatives to cigarette smoking.  Often imported from other countries and distributed by multiple e-cigarette companies, they are marketed under various proprietary names.  These products are not currently regulated by the FDA, and their long-term safety has not been demonstrated.  To add to the confusion, the amount of nicotine per cartridge varies widely, as well as the amount of nicotine delivered per “puff.”  Additionally, some of these products have flavoring agents and other possibly harmful chemicals. 

So, what could possibly be so bad about children getting a hold of nicotine-containing products? 

Based on our findings, these e-cigarette cartridges may contain quantities of nicotine ranging from zero to almost 7 milligrams (mg).  Toxicology references state a dose as low as 1 mg of nicotine may cause symptoms in a small child.  16 mg of nicotine represents a potentially fatal dose of nicotine for a 25 pound child. 

Nicotine, even at low doses, is quite dangerous to small children.  A few milligrams of pure nicotine may cause symptoms of:

  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhea,
  • drowsiness,
  • weakness,
  • irritability,
  • sweating,
  • increased heart rate
  •  and blood pressure. 

Higher doses may lead to coma, seizures, depressed respiration, irregular heartbeat, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and even death.  

Believe it or not, nicotine sulfate is an EPA-registered insect killer, which was used several decades ago and carried a DANGER” warning.  However, it is no longer widely used.  Think about that the next time you light up or take a puff from your e-cigarette. 

As a poisoning hazard to children, e-cigarettes may not be any safer than other natural or synthetic nicotine products(i.e., cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobaccos, nicotine chewing gums, lozenges, skin patches, etc.).  Like other potentially hazardous substances in the home, all smoking materials and smoking alternative products should be out of reach of young children.  We urge all parents and caretakers of small children to call the IPC at 1-800-222-1222 immediately whenever the suspicion arises that a child may have consumed any amount of such products.  

P.S.  You will be happy to know that the child the IPC was called about did perfectly OK and experienced no symptoms of nicotine toxicity.  We are not sure if it was because the child got very little of the product, or if there was very little nicotine in the product to begin with, but we will still approach any future calls about these products with great caution.

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8 Comments on “The Truth About E-Cigarettes: A Potential Poisoning Hazard”

  1. 1 Kerig said at 8:07 pm on October 2nd, 2010:

    When my brother was 6 years old he accidentally ate rat poison and had to have his stomach pumped. Was rat poison banned? NO. I’m sorry about the child, but as with all household chemicals, e-cigarettes and their liquids should be kept out of the reach of children, which is the responsibility of the parents and adults in the household. A simple solution to an ban of these products is a childproof cap on an e-cigarette liquid’s bottle. And they are already being used, as I own e-liquids that have them! Sure, nicotine is a drug, but with e-cigarettes I am not inhaling the 4000+ dangerous chemicals that are in an FDA approved product…the tobacco cigarette. Please be real and transparent in your perspectives and intentions of this blog.

  2. 2 issuexoge said at 10:16 am on October 4th, 2010:

    It’s such a important site. imaginary, extraordinarily fascinating!!!


  3. 3 IPC said at 12:24 pm on October 4th, 2010:


    Thank you visiting our blog and for your comment.

    Your point that unintentional poisonings of small children can be minimized greatly if guardians were more cautious, is exactly correct. Nevertheless we understand that even in the care of the most attentive parent, accidents can and do occur. Therefore the purpose of this space is to educate the public and provide them with the most useful tools and information they need to create healthy environments for themselves, their families and communities.

  4. 4 Kerig said at 8:41 pm on October 5th, 2010:

    I’m all for educating the public to the dangers of the liquid nicotine left unattended around children. What I find issue with is proselytizing with the statement “Think about that the next time you light up or take a puff from your e-cigarette.”, which has no place in an informational format by an organization partially funded with taxpayer money. Please keep to the facts, thank you.

  5. 5 IPC said at 11:00 am on October 12th, 2010:

    The IPC clinical staff shares a passion to not only provide information and response to unintentional ingestions and exposures, but to proactively educate and inform individuals of potential health risks of those things that are marketed as “safe.” The comment “Think about that”…referenced the fact that nicotine sulfate is an EPA-registered insect killer, which was used several decades ago and carried a “DANGER” warning. Since everything, including water, can prove to be toxic if taken in the wrong amount, one might rationalize that the “dangers” of liquid nicotine might not be as well known. Please feel free to call us anytime at 1800-222-1222 if you have questions about poisonous and potentially poisonous substances.

  6. 6 IPC said at 11:04 am on October 12th, 2010:

    Thank you very much! We try to keep the content interesting and fresh. Keep reading!

  7. 7 dt said at 1:45 pm on May 30th, 2012:

    I agree with the other person’s comment. There are many items in a household that could posion children. Also, everyone who smoked regular cigarettes knows that nicotine is poison. We also know that regular cigarettes are worse by far than smoking ecigs as well as second hand smoke, which is bad for your children.

    There is no known evidence that nicotine in cancerous. There are also a number of e-juices that are manufactured in the US, if you opt to only purchase from US made. I don’t get the point here. Ecig companies warn on every item that you should keep out of reach of children. The same that is on all poisonous items. So what is your point here? The point here is there is a tobacco tax and the government is making money on it. There is alchohol tax and the government is making money off of that. But if they try and tax nicotine, then they would have to double tax regular cigarettes, 1 for tobacco and the other for nicotine.

    The great thing about ecigs is that you can buy with zero nicotine, and I could easily do that if they try the tax issue. I see the government trying to tax, since ecigs are becoming more popular. The reason why everyone thought the government was increasing taxes on tobacco all the time was to hopefully make people quit smoking, but that is not the case. They want people to smoke so that extra tax money can be used to pull them out of their debt that they got themselves into from their fullish mistakes. That we all know!!!

  8. 8 lady dee said at 5:31 am on January 22nd, 2014:

    Excellent info and lots of useful and potentially life saving advice.I have no problem at all with the comment about “Think about that…..”
    I agree that it is way past time when we as adults take responsibilty for what we do and have and also the impact upon others and our envirnoment. It was well said and could have been much harsher and less tactful if said by someone else. God on you for standing up and speaking out as oice

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