Youth injuries from e-cigarettes spike; FDA is starting to regulate them, but study authors say not enough to protect children

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The number of young children swallowing or being exposed to the liquid nicotine used in electronic cigarettes has “skyrocketed,” jumping 1,500 percent from 2012 to 2015, one co-author of a recent study says.

“E-cigarettes and liquid nicotine can cause serious poisoning, and even death, among young children,” Dr. Gary Smith, co-author of the study, told Randy Dotinga for HealthDay. “Like other dangerous poisons, they should be kept out of sight and reach of children, preferably in a locked location.”

The research, published online May 9 in the journal Pediatrics, follows an announcement that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will now regulate e-cigarettes. The rule bans the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, requires health warnings on all packaging and advertisements and requires manufacturers to get federal approval on all products introduced to the market after Feb. 15, 2007. It does not address marketing or advertising. The measure goes into effect Aug. 8, and gives affected industries two years to comply.

E-cigarettes, which are battery-powered devices that heat up fluid that includes nicotine and other ingredients such as flavors and chemicals, have become increasingly popular. They are now the most common form of nicotine use among teenagers. Researchers found that it is the liquid nicotine that poses the greatest danger to children.

The study looked at calls to the National Poison Data System about nicotine and tobacco products from January 2012 to April 2015, and focused on calls about children under the age of 6. The NPDS received 29,141 calls for nicotine and tobacco product exposure during this time, averaging 729 child exposures per month.

It found about 14 percent, or 4,128 of the calls were about exposure to e-cigarettes and involved children aged 2 or younger. Most of the exposures were due to ingestion.

“Children exposed to e-cigarettes had five times higher odds of a health care facility admission and almost 3 times higher odds of having a severe outcome than children exposed to cigarettes,” says the report. “One death occurred in association with a nicotine liquid exposure.”

“These are not trivial exposures. There were comas, seizures, and even one death in the 40-month period we studied, and these exposures were predictable and preventable,” Smith told MedPage Today. “E-cigarettes and vaping liquids are products that should never have entered the market without adequate consideration of the harms they could cause to young children.”

Smith, also the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, told HealthDay that more needs to be done.

“Other prevention steps include prohibiting the use of flavors, as was done for cigarettes since 2009, restricting the use of packaging and labeling attractive to children, ensuring that liquid nicotine compartments on e-cigarettes are child-resistant, and limiting the concentration and/or quantity of nicotine in refill products,” he said.

Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, a nonprofit group dedicated to education about e-cigarettes and vapor products, told HealthDay that the concern about e-cigarettes is “overblown.”

He told HealthDay that the child who died “consumed a homemade nicotine liquid concoction that’s much stronger than retail versions.” He also pointed out that the number of cases have declined since this study was conducted, saying that this is likely due to increased publicity about the risk.

Co-author Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, encouraged parents of young children who vape to treat liquid nicotine like a poison, suggesting that they keep refill containers “up, away and out of sight, preferably in a locked location” and to not leave vaping devices laying around.

Study authors encourage parents to call the Poison Help Line immediately, at 1-800-222-1222, if their child has been exposed to e-cigarettes.

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