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CDC, Poison Center Warn of E-Cigarette Dangers

April 14, 2014

Poison centers across the U.S. are reporting a dramatic increase in calls related to exposures to e-cigarettes. The number of calls to the poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than half (51.1 percent) of the calls to the poison centers related to e-cigarettes involved children ages 5 and younger, and about 42 percent of the poison calls involved people ages 20 and older.

Poisoning related to e-cigarettes involves exposure to the liquid containing nicotine used in the devices and can occur in three ways: by ingestion, inhalation or absorption through the skin or eyes. The most common adverse health effects mentioned in e-cigarette calls were vomiting, nausea and eye irritation.

The study was published in the April 3 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The Georgia Poison Center has also seen a spike in the number of calls it has received related to e-cigarettes. The agency received 22 calls in 2013, but in the first few months of 2014, there have already been 24 calls related to e-cigarette liquid poisoning, said Gaylord Lopez, PharmD, director of the Georgia Poison Center.

“Nicotine is a poisonous chemical,” Lopez said. “The refill bottles that are sold online and in the retail setting contain dangerously large quantities of this lethal chemical. As little as half a mouthful of liquid nicotine in a child can cause serious life-threatening effects.”

The reports come amid a flurry of concern over e-cigarettes, electronic devices that heat a mix of chemicals to create an aerosol that the user inhales. The products contain nicotine and other combustible materials that may be dangerous to the health of the users and bystanders. Nicotine is associated with atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which leads to heart attack and stroke. Lead and other heavy metals in some e-cigarettes are associated with brain damage in children and young adults, and with other cognitive problems in adults.

In addition to poisonings, several reports have indicated that e-cigarettes can malfunction and explode, causing burns and other injuries to users.

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) wants the public, particularly parents and guardians, to know that e-cigarettes can cause serious health problems.

"E-cigarettes, vape-pens and e-hookahs are dangerous for youth and young adults,” said Jean O’Connor, DrPH, DPH’s director of health promotion and disease prevention. “Kids who are smart about their health will avoid these products. Even one puff can be harmful and addictive.  And if you are unlucky enough to use one that explodes, a burn on your face or hands will last a lifetime."

In March, the Georgia legislature passed HB 251, banning e-cigarette sales to minors.

If you or someone you know has been poisoned by an e-cigarette or by liquid nicotine, call the Georgia Poison Center at 800.222.1222 or visit its website, www.georgiaposioncenter.org, and start a live chat with one of the poison specialists.

To get help to quit smoking or using tobacco, call the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line at 1-877-270-STOP (7867).