E-cigarettes: you are probably familiar with these battery powered contraptions that heat liquid nicotine (among other things) into vapor, which is then inhaled. E-cigarettes have become a multi-billion dollar industry in the past 9 years—unfortunately these products can be very dangerous to children. As of 2014, 12.6% of US adults have used e-cigarettes at least once, which means they are in a lot of homes.
E-cigarettes are marketed as safer than tobacco and/or a step towards quitting traditional cigarettes. I’m not here to debate those claims, but what I can tell you is that the liquid nicotine used in e-cigs is super toxic to children.
Tobacco contains nicotine too of course, but the liquid used in e-cigarettes can be very highly concentrated. In children, a dose as low as a few milligrams of nicotine can cause symptoms of toxicity. That would be about 2-3 drops of e-liquid or a whole tobacco cigarette butt. Symptoms of nicotine toxicity from bad to worse include:
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Drowsiness, confusion, and weakness
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Respiratory muscle paralysis
Last year, the IPC managed 131 total exposures to liquid nicotine, including 87 in kids under age 6. Many of the exposures are the typical pediatric exploratory type ingestions, meaning that kids will curiously pick it up and put it in their mouth. As we have discussed before, kids learn about their environment by touching and tasting.
But what really got me, is that several of these cases involved toddlers actually taking a puff off an e-cigarette. Now, IPC has taken calls about kids getting into regular tobacco cigarettes for the past 60+ years, but I have never heard of a toddler taking a drag off of a hot, stinky, smoking cigarette! I believe it is because e-cigarettes do not have those built in deterrents. E-cigarettes can get a little warm but they are not literally on fire. Rather than foul smelling smoke, many e-cig liquids smell pleasantly fruity. This combination of concentrated toxic liquid + easily accessible non-child resistant device really worries us here at the IPC. If you have E-cigarettes or e-liquid/liquid nicotine in your home, follow these steps to keep kids safe:
- Children imitate adults: do not use e-cigarettes in front of children.
- Ensure that e-liquids and e-cigarettes are kept up high, out of sight and reach of children. Watch bags and purses brought in by visitors.
- If a child does get into an e-cigarette or the liquid, call the IPC right away at 1-800-222-1222. Liquid nicotine is absorbed through the skin. If you or your child gets e-liquid nicotine on the skin, thoroughly wash with soap and water immediately. If it has been left on the skin for any period of time, call IPC.
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