Poison center calls related to e-cigarette exposure grew from one a month to 215 a month between September 2010 and February 2014, according to a study released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half the e-cigarette exposure calls – 51.1 percent – involved children under 5 years old.
The CDC’s analysis compared monthly poison center calls related to conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes, which are battery-operated devices that convert nicotine liquid and other additives into an aerosol vapor that can be inhaled. The liquid is available in kid-friendly flavors such as fruit, chocolate or mint.
Poisoning can occur when people ingest the nicotine liquid or absorb it through their skin or eyes, or inhale the vapor. Vomiting, nausea and eye irritation were the most common health effects of e-cigarette exposure.
“The CDC’s latest study on e-cigarettes is in one word – disturbing,” said American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown. “Manufacturers should disclose the ingredients and dangers of these products in clear and detailed warning labels, limit their use of fruit and candy flavors that appeal to children, and restrict the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes to youth. New data such as this cries out for Food and Drug Administration oversight of these products.”
The Food and Drug Administration plans to start regulating e-cigarettes, but the agency has said it lacks reliable information about the amounts and types of potentially harmful ingredients they contain.
With conventional cigarette poisoning, young children typically eat a cigarette, according to the CDC. E-cigarette calls were more likely than cigarette calls to include a report of an adverse health effect after exposure.
“This report raises another red flag about e-cigarettes – the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can be hazardous,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Use of these products is skyrocketing and these poisonings will continue.”
There is also a concern that e-cigarettes provide a gateway to conventional cigarettes and other tobacco products, according to the American Heart Association.
Cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States, accounting for more than 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths, according to the AHA.
The CDC examined all calls from U.S. poison control centers reporting exposure to conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or nicotine liquid used in e-cigarettes. Poison centers reported 2,405 e-cigarette and 16,248 cigarette exposure calls from September 2010 to February 2014.
Because many poisonings are unreported, it’s likely the number of children and adults poisoned by e-cigarette liquid is even higher, according to the CDC.
The agency says developing strategies to monitor and prevent future poisonings is critical given the rapid increase in e-cigarette-related poisonings.
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