Pittsburgh Poison Center Experiencing Increase in Calls About E-Cigarette Fluid

Jan 5, 2015

E-cigarettes are marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes. The use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, is on the rise in popularity among adults and teens.

Since it’s a new technology, the health effects aren’t fully understood, but officials are warning that small children could be at risk from exposure to the liquid used in e-cigarettes.

“Nicotine at doses of approximately 20mg or so would be enough to kill a relatively small child, potentially,” said Michael Lynch, medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center. “Some of these e-cigarette nicotine refill cartridges can contain as much as 36mg of nicotine.”

In early December, a toddler in upstate New York died after ingesting vaping fluid. It’s believed to be the first death related to the e-cigarette liquid. One of the dangers, said Lynch, is the presentation of the fluid.

“They’re fruity. There’s chocolate smells, cherry, apple, all sorts of different things. Coca Cola I’ve seen, which can be very appealing and enticing to a child who will smell it and associate it with candy or something else that may taste good,” said Lynch.

The fluid used in vaping is made mostly of non-toxic and food-grade ingredients, but it’s the nicotine that can be harmful to small children, even if it’s spilled.

“You can absorb nicotine through the skin or through the eyes, if happened to splash it in the eyes, enough to develop some toxicity that way as well,” said Lynch. “So it doesn’t even have to be ingested to cause some toxicity.”

As with many household chemicals that can be harmful to children, Lynch said parents and caregivers are being urged to store vaping fluid properly.

“We recommend that they be stored in cabinets that are high or difficult for children to access,” he said. “If it’s possible to keep it in a locked container that would be preferable though not always convenient or realistic.”

He added that Mr. Yuk stickers and teaching children not to handle or drink the fluid is also important.

The number of calls to the Pittsburgh Poison Center at UPMC has gone from one in 2009 to 121 calls through the end of November 2014. This correlates to a national trend; the American Association of Poison Control Centers reports a 219 percent increase in calls from 2012 to 2013 and through the end of November 2014 the AAPC had received 3,638 e-cigarette related calls.