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E-cigarette calls light up poison control switchboards

New report from the CDC shows children age 5 and under face the biggest risk

Published: April 04, 2014 11:45 AM

The number of people calling poison control centers because of e-cigarettes has soared recently as the use of the unregulated devices continues to grow. There were 215 such calls in February 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week, compared with just one in September 2010. All together, there were 2,405 calls with e-cigarettes as the primary complaint over that time frame, according to the CDC. More than half of the calls involved eposure among children 5 and younger.

The exposure could come from the e-cigarettes or the vials of liquid nicotine that people use to refill the devices. Those vials contain concentrated amounts of nicotine, which is highly toxic if it’s ingested or even just touches your skin.

Among the 2,405 calls, 69 percent involved ingestion; 17 percent involved inhalation; 9 percent involved eyes; and 6 percent involved the skin The most common adverse health effects were vomiting, nausea, and eye irritation.

Our earlier analysis found that the most common adverse events for e-cigs reported to the Food and Drug Administration involved respiratory problems, blood pressure abnormalities, heart problems, allergic reactions, and exploding cigarettes.

While many cities and states are now passing laws defining where e-cigarettes can be used and how old people have to be to buy them, the Food and Drug Administration has still not unveiled how it will regulate them. “Nicotine is a drug and should be regulated as one," Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports chief medical adviser, says. "We think the FDA needs to act now to end the wild, wild, west of the e-cigarette marketplace."

In the meantime, the American Association of Poison Control Centers says people who use e-cigarettes should wear gloves when handling the products and keep e-cigarette devices and liquid nicotine locked up and out of the reach of children. And if you think someone has been exposed to an e-cigarette device or liquid nicotine, call your local poison-control center at 800-222-1222 immediately.

—Chris Hendel

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