Although there was just one call for help made in September 2010 for e-cigarette poisoning, there were more than 200 such calls made to poison help hotlines in February of this year, according to a report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There's been an increased awareness about the possible dangers of liquids used in electronic cigarettes, which typically contain high concentrations of nicotine. Miami-Dade recently banned the use of e-cigs in county buildings, and a bill proposing the banning of selling e-cigs to minors passed in Florida's House Regulatory Affairs Committee last week; it'll go to the House now.
It would be easy to assume that most poisonings came from minors finding their way into the packaging.
But the CDC reported that more than 40 percent of the poison calls were for people over 20 years old.
According to a news release:
The study found that while most calls involving e-cigarette liquid poisoning came from accidental ingestion of the e-cigarette or its liquid, about one-sixth of the calls related to someone inhaling these items. Exposure through the eye and the skin were also reported.
"Coming into contact with e-liquid that has a concentrated solution of nicotine is highly dangerous," said Norman H. Edelman, M.D., senior medical adviser of the American Lung Association. "As with any poison, these liquids must be kept away from children. Adults also must be aware of the danger of touching it and ingesting it."
Brandon Leidel, CEO of VaporShark, a local e-cigarette company, rejected the report upon hearing of it.
"Well, my response would be: I want to see the reports for other hazardous chemicals laying around the house," he said in a phone interview. "To me, it sounds like a small number. You're talking about the whole nation in terms of poison calls. I mean, how many kids get their hands on alcohol or any dangerous chemical that we just keep in the house?"
(After the interview, Leidel provided stats from the National Capital Poison Center (poison.org), reporting that in the Washington, D.C., metro area in 2013, there were 2,541 poison calls for cosmetics in children under 6, which is about 204 calls per month. There were 2,763 poison calls for pain relievers in adults over 20, about 230 calls per month.)
Leidal explained that because the FDA doesn't regulate e-cigarette sales, a minor so inclined could fake his/her way through a few forms online, confirm a legal age, and get e-cigarettes via mail. Because the FDA mandates things like alcohol, say, a minor would have to provide a legal I.D. upon receiving the alcohol.
As for the adults making poison calls at a higher rate, Leidal says, well, that just happens.
"We've had people call here with crazy stories. One guy picked up his bottle and thought it was Visine and squirted it into his eye," Leidel said. "This happens with every type of hazardous chemical. People do this stuff all the time, and to single this out is unfair."
"I don't think it's ever going to go away. I don't think there's anything we can do to make it go away," he continued. "I don't think we should focus such a big deal on this, though. There are things we already do in terms of labeling. There's a little symbol on the top of the caps that a blind person can feel to know if it's it's hazardous or not."
The FDA has announced plans to regulate the e-cigarette business, but the rules have not yet been formed. Regulation is not something Leidel is opposed to.
"The quality of liquids will be increased because of federal oversight," he said. "It's going to be a good thing for the industry. Lot of companies that make e-liquid in their house won't be able to, and the FDA will elevate the business. Online sales are going to drop for everyone, but it'll drive people to the stores. I'm for it."