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Child Liquid Nicotine Exposures Up 1500% With Rising E-Cigarette Popularity: Study

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The number of young children poisoned by liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes has skyrocketed in recent years, sickening thousands nationwide and killing at least one child, according to the findings new research. 

According to a study published in the May issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of children under the age of six who suffered liquid nicotine poisoning rose nearly 1,500% between 2013 to 2015, as the popularity of e-cigarettes has increased nationwide.

Many of the e-cigarette poisonings resulted in severe side effects like seizures, coma or even death.

Researchers used data from the National Poison Data System (NPDS) from January 2012 through April 2015, focusing on poison exposures involving nicotine and tobacco among children under six.

Overall, the NPDS recorded more than 29,000 calls for nicotine and tobacco poisonings for young children, averaging 729 child exposures per month. Sixty percent of the nicotine exposures among children involved cigarettes and 16% other tobacco products.

E-cigarette liquid nicotine poisonings accounted for 14 percent of the calls, yet the increase in the number of exposures related to e-cigarettes spiked by 1,493% from prior to 2013.

Monthly calls related to e-cigarettes surged from 14 to 223 with a total of 4,128 calls among the total 29,000 calls related to children’s exposure to nicotine and tobacco.

In 2014, a Consumer Reports study concluded e-cigarette poisonings had more than doubled from the poisonings reported in 2013.

Liquid Nicotine Risks

Children exposed to e-cigarettes face a five times higher risk of being admitted to a hospital than children exposed to tobacco via cigarettes, according to the findings of researchers.

Children exposed to nicotine liquid also have nearly three times the risk of experiencing severe outcomes, such as trouble breathing, seizure or in one case a death, compared to children exposed to only cigarettes.

Even a small amount of liquid nicotine can cause serious poisoning or death in a young child, making e-cigarettes a much bigger risk to toddlers than cigarettes. Toddlers are often curious, and while exploring their environment put items in their mouth unaware of the danger.

Liquid nicotine is much more toxic to children than the tobacco found in traditional cigarettes. It is easier for the body to absorb and contains higher concentrations of nicotine. One cigarette contains 1 to 2 milligrams of nicotine, while the liquid for e-cigarettes contains 18 milligrams. One small sip may contain the amount of nicotine in several packs of cigarettes in one dose.

“Swift government action is needed to regulate these products to help prevent child poisoning,” wrote study authors.

In January, Congress and the President passed a new law, the Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act of 2015, which requires child-proof caps for all liquid nicotine products. The e-cigarette legislation requires that all liquid nicotine products have packaging that is difficult for a child under five years of age to open.

Last week the FDA announced new regulations for e-cigarettes. The long-awaited rules extend the agency’s authority to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and ban the sale of the devices to those under 18. While many praise the move, others say not enough is being done to protect children from the dangers of e-cigarettes.

Children under the age of two accounted for 44 percent of e-cigarette exposures, 92% of cigarette exposures and 75 percent of other tobacco exposures.

Symptoms from drinking liquid nicotine, include vomiting, nausea, and rapid heartbeat. The symptoms will often go away within a few hours.

Researchers say, despite the high number of reported liquid nicotine poisonings, the data likely underestimates the true risk e-cigarettes pose to children since the data only includes cases reported voluntarily to poison control centers.

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