The e-cigarette market, which broadly encompasses the delivery of nicotine via an electronic apparatus such as a Juul, is a billion-dollar industry. Public health experts warm that these devices with their nicotine pods, cartridges, or the like have to be treated like any potentially hazardous chemical when it comes to children.
There was a dramatic increase in the number of calls to the poison control center over the first 4 years that e-cigarettes were are the market. That trend continues, with nearly 2,100 cases reported from January 1st through July 1st in 2019.
At issue is the liquid nicotine used in these devices to create the flavored vapor inhaled by users. Nicotine, which is naturally present in tobacco leaves in small amounts, is a highly potent neurotoxin at higher levels. Symptoms of nicotine poisoning include abdominal cramping, agitation, rapid breathing, confusion, and in extreme cases, coma and death. As little as a tablespoon of a 10 percent liquid nicotine formulation can be lethal.
Many parents are unaware of just how dangerous liquid nicotine can be—or how appealing it can be to curious children. E-cigarette nicotine is sold in child-friendly flavors, including bubble gum and gummy bear. It’s vital to keep all liquid nicotine products in a childproof place. Nicotine can be ingested through the mouth or absorbed by the skin and can make a child ill within minutes.
E-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA or any other federal organization, meaning there is no quality control for the nicotine, nor are there published guidelines for safety. They are not required to have child-resistant caps or warning labels. While many researchers feel this is a better option than a traditional cigarette, long-term studies are still ongoing to determine the effects of inhaling nicotine alone. They are not an FDA-approved method of smoking cessation.
E-cigarettes have the potential to positively impact the health of traditional smokers as they quit. Unfortunately, their popularity is increasing among non-smokers including children, making public health officials concerned that Americans may be trading one addiction for another. In addition, not all states limit the sale of e-cigarettes to adults, making them available to middle and high school children.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, August 2019
- E-cigarettes are electronic cigarettes that contain nicotine but not the tar and other carcinogens of a traditional cigarette.
- The nicotine fillers come in a variety of flavors, some of which are very appealing to children.
- E-cigarettes are not an FDA-regulated product.
- Accidental ingestion is becoming more common, according to the CDC.
- Parents are encouraged to keep e-cigarettes away from children, just as they would a traditional cigarette.