As electronic cigarettes become more popular, calls to poison control centers regarding exposure to liquid nicotine have increased significantly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A recent study revealed that calls related to e-cigarettes rose from an average of one call per month in September 2010 to 215 calls per month by February 2014. More than half of these calls involved young children under the age of 5.
According to the CDC report, poisoning related to e-cigarettes occurs through direct skin or eye exposure, ingestion or inhalation of the e-liquid, many times referred to as e-juice.
“The liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can be hazardous,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Use of these products is skyrocketing and these poisonings will continue. E-cigarette liquids as currently sold are a threat to small children because they are not required to be childproof, and they come in candy and fruit flavors that are appealing to children.”
Most e-juices come in eyedroplike containers and in a variety of fruity flavors such as cotton candy, cherry cheesecake and fruit punch.
The most common health effects reported in e-liquid poisoning include vomiting, nausea and eye irritation.
According to the Department of Infection Control at Mercy Medical Center, no cases of poisoning caused by e-cigarette liquid have been reported in Merced.
Lex Bufford, owner of Strawberry Alarm Clock smoke shop on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, said he is aware that e-liquid packaging is not designed to keep children away, but said it is the parents’ responsibility to keep the poisonous product away from their children.
“This is a case of people blaming other people,” Bufford said. “If you got your stuff around your kids, you’re responsible for it. You don’t leave your aspirins out; a little kid comes by and gets aspirin, he can overdose on aspirin, we all know that.”
Bufford said he believes childproof packaging and federal regulation can help reduce the number of e-cigarette related poisoning cases.
“The number of e-juice manufacturers is totally out of control,” Bufford said. “Almost anyone can set up a lab and start making e-juice; it’s totally unregulated.”
Justin Lombardo, an employee at Smoking Jays tobacco shop on Main Street, said e-cigarette products should have some regulations, but he does not have a problem selling these products because of their growing popularity.
“It’s a very big trend right now,” Lombardo said. “I see a lot more kids 18 to 25 buying e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes. They say in all the commercials that it’s better than smoking. If it’s better, I don’t know, but I have noticed that regular cigarette sales have gone down compared to e-cigarette sales going up.”
Lombardo and Bufford agreed that one of the reasons behind the popularity of e-cigarettes is that many companies advertise e-cigarettes as an effective product to help people quit smoking. However, the FDA has not evaluated any e-cigarettes for safety or effectiveness.
“A lot of people think they can start with 18 milligrams of nicotine, and then they can cut down to say 12, and then they can cut down to 6, and then finally to zero milligrams,” Bufford said. “We’ve had people come in and tell us that it’s worked for them, but I don’t know about that.”
Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.