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Liquid nicotine for e-cigarettes poisoning children

Toxicologists warn that this liquid nicotine, also known as "e-liquid," poses a significant risk to public health, particularly to children who may be drawn to their bright colors and fragrant flavorings like cherry, chocolate and bubble gum.

Parents often do not think of nicotine as a poison, so they may leave liquid nicotine cartridges within reach of children. Children are also getting their hands on e-cigarettes and taking them apart. They either ingest the liquid or get it onto their skin, where nicotine will be absorbed. Toddlers and preschoolers sometimes lick the containers or drink the liquid, enticed by the flavoring.

Ingesting e-liquid can give children a harmful or even deadly dose of nicotine. Many cartridges contain more than 14 milligrams of nicotine, much higher than tobacco. Since children are not used to consuming nicotine, their symptoms may be more severe at lower levels.

Symptoms include hyperactivity, flushing, sweating, headache, dizziness, rapid heart rate, vomiting and diarrhea. Even small amounts on a child's skin can cause irritation and a burning sensation. In very severe cases, a child's heart rate and blood pressure may drop dangerously low, resulting in a coma or even death.

Reports of accidental poisonings, notably among children, are soaring. Nationwide, the number of cases linked to e-liquids jumped to 1,351 in 2013, a 300 percent increase from 2012, and the number is on pace to double this year, according to information from the National Poison Data System. Of the cases in 2013, 365 were referred to hospitals, triple the previous year’s number.

The nicotine levels in e-liquids varies. Most range between 1.8 percent and 2.4 percent, concentrations that can cause sickness, but rarely death, in children. But higher concentrations like 7.2 percent or even 10 percent are widely available on the internet. A lethal dose at such levels would take “less than a tablespoon,” according to Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System and a professor of pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. “Not just a kid. One tablespoon could kill an adult,” he said.

“It is not a matter of if a child will be seriously poisoned or killed,” said Cantrell. “It is a matter of when.”

Written by: Matt Richtel, The New York Times; Laura Ungar, The (Louisville, KY) Courier-Journal
Posted: Jun 03, 2014 by Lisa Callaham

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