Why the Rise of E-Cigarettes Is Especially Dangerous for Young Kids

E-cigarette exposure can be more dangerous for kids than exposure to regular cigarettes, according to a new study.

woman smoking e-cigarette
Photo: Shutterstock

Several years ago, I'd never even heard of e-cigarettes. But since 2007 when the product was introduced in the U.S., and with the modern alternative to traditional cigarettes gaining popularity, a new problem has reared its ugly head—or, shall I say, butt.

According to a new study titled "Pediatric Exposure to E-Cigarettes, Nicotine, and Tobacco Products in the Household" published today in the journal Pediatrics, the number of kids at risk for nicotine poisoning has increased to an epidemic level over the past three years.

Researchers looked at calls to the National Poison Data System between January 2012 and April 2015. Unbelievably, the hot line received more than 29,100 calls, or an average of 729 calls per month, regarding nicotine and tobacco product exposures among kids younger than 6 years of age. While calls about exposure to regular cigarettes remained the same, inquiries about e-cigarettes, which remain unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, increased by almost 1,500 percent during the 40-month study.

The study also found kids exposed to e-cigarettes were five times more likely to be admitted to a health care facility versus those who were exposed to regular cigarettes. And they were more than two and a half times more likely to suffer severe medical outcomes. Why?

As the study's lead author Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, director for Injury Research & Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, told Parents.com, 90 percent of kids were exposed to liquid nicotine through ingestion. In fact, the recent death of a 1-year-old child was associated with drinking nicotine liquid from an open refill container.

"E-cigarettes and liquid nicotine can cause serious poisoning, and even death, among young children," Dr. Smith explained. "Like other dangerous poisons, they should be kept out of sight and reach of children, preferably in a locked location." This is especially important since, as Smith explains, "Liquid nicotine comes in flavors and with packaging highly attractive to children without child-resistant closures."

Smith hopes the alarming data in the study will spur government action, product changes, and public education to prevent child poisoning from e-cigarettes. "This is another example of a highly dangerous product being introduced into the places where young children live and play without adequate regard for child safety," he says, adding "It is unacceptable that children are being rushed to emergency departments in coma, with seizures or breathing failure, and dying."

Smith offers these further tips to avoid accidental exposure in kids:

  • Store e-cigarettes and refill products where children cannot see or reach them – in a locked location is best. Do not store them in a purse, which children can easily access.
  • Use and refill alone. Do not use e-cigarettes around children. Because children want to imitate adults, using e-cigarettes and refilling them with children nearby could lead to a dangerous exposure. The images, smells, and colors may attract children.
  • Save the national Poison Help Line number (1-800-222-1222) in your cell phone and post it near your home phones. And if your child has been exposed, call the help line immediately.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.

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