While still relatively small, the number of calls to poison centers from electronic cigarette exposure and liquid nicotine are “skyrocketing,” the director of the Georgia Poison Center said.
A report in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that calls to poison centers related to e-cigarette exposure escalated from one a month in September 2010 to 215 a month in February. More than half those calls were in children younger than 5.
In Georgia, there were five calls in 2010, 22 calls last year and 24 calls already this year, said Dr. Gaylord Lopez, the director of the Georgia Poison Center. The increasing calls likely reflect in part the growing use of those products, he said.
“As it is with anything, the more something is used, the more something is bought, the more something is prescribed, the more cases we’re going to get as a poison center service,” Lopez said.
But it might also reflect a lack of awareness of the potency of the liquid nicotine, which is a toxin, he said. By weight, nicotine is three times more lethal than arsenic, Lopez said.
“It’s a poison that people are not aware of,” he said.
Part of the problem is the lack of regulation on e-cigarettes, Lopez said. The Food and Drug Administration was given the authority to regulate those and other tobacco-derived products by a court case in 2010 and has announced its intent to do so and most recently estimated December as the date it would issue those regulations for public comment.
The FDA sent those guidelines to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and on Tuesday public health groups called on that office to release those regulations and let the FDA proceed.
FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Haliski released a statement Thursday that said further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risks of these cigarettes and other novel tobacco products.
The owner of an Augusta store specializing in e-cigarettes said common sense and safety caps and should limit any danger.
Crazy Vapors doesn’t sell the bottles of liquid nicotine and instead adds drops of it to solutions that go into the e-cigarette, depending on how strong the customer wants it, employee Seth Brantley said.
For the equivalent of a full-strength cigarette, a 50-milliliter bottle would have 20 drops, he said.
The solution comes in a bottle with a childproof cap, “almost kind of like a medicine bottle,” owner Craig Perryman said.
The poison center has a different name for childproof caps, Lopez said.
“We call those adult-resistant caps because we’re the ones that have the problem,” he said. “Kids figure out a way to get into them.”
It doesn’t take much of the liquid nicotine to create problems, Lopez said.
“Depending on the concentration of nicotine, as little as a quarter of a teaspoonful is probably enough to send the kid into the emergency room,” he said.
About 15 percent of their calls have ended up with kids heading to the hospital, Lopez said, particularly if the child ingested an unknown amount. While most will just have vomiting and nausea, it could lead to coma and seizures, he said.
Perryman said the store trusts customers to handle the solutions in a responsible way.
“We hope common sense takes over,” he said.
The poison center is trying to raise awareness before more calls come in, Lopez said.
“We’re trying as a poison center to let people know that this is a growing concern, the call numbers are skyrocketing, the use of these products is skyrocketing,” he said. “We just have to be more careful.”