They’re a subject of great discussion. Some claim they help people stop smoking. Others say the vapors they emit are a great health concern, claiming they contain high levels of formaldehyde and other chemicals. They’re e-cigarettes, an alternative product to smoking that’s growing in popularity with sales in the billions.
But while the debate about e-cigarette regulation continues with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and device manufacturers, data from Kentucky shows that e-cigarettes can pose an immediate danger.
In 2014 the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center of Norton Children’s Hospital saw a 150 percent increase in calls from the previous year — all because of the liquid nicotine used with e-cigarettes.
“More than 75 percent of the calls we received in 2014 were concerning children age 6 and under,” said Ashley Webb, Pharm.D., board-certified toxicologist and director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center. “There is a lot of concern because the majority of these kids are ingesting the liquid from the refill cartridge.”
When on the skin, nicotine in liquid form is easily absorbed. Either way, the liquid nicotine has the potential to cause harm, and different cartridges may contain different amounts of nicotine.
“We know that less than a mouthful of an average concentration of liquid nicotine can be toxic,” Webb said. “Kids are not used to consuming nicotine, so their symptoms may be more severe at lower levels.”
Symptoms of serious nicotine exposure include a pale appearance, flushing, sweating, headache, dizziness, hyperactivity or restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea, rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, salivation and teary eyes. In severe cases, heart rate and blood pressure begin to drop to dangerously low levels and the person can lapse into a coma, followed by difficulty breathing and even death.
Even small amounts of the liquid nicotine can cause irritation and a burning sensation.
“Only a few of the calls involved symptoms severe enough to require emergency care,” Webb said. “We’re concerned that it’s only a matter of time before a child experiences a severe reaction.”
If you or a child comes into contact with the liquid found in an e-cigarette cartridge, call the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center immediately at (800) 222-1222. Specially trained nurses, physicians and pharmacists certified in toxicology are on call 24 hours a day to help you. For additional information, visit KRPCC.com.