E-Cigarettes: A Reliable Smoking Alternative Or Vials Of Toxic Poison?

E-Cigarettes contain liquid nicotine a powerful and possibly dangerous toxin.

E-Cigarettes contain liquid nicotine a powerful and possibly dangerous toxin.

For more than 50 years the Surgeon General has warned consumers of the risks associated with smoking cigarettes. Since that time, many products introduced as alternatives. One of the most recent, and popular options is the use of e-cigarettes. But poison control officials say the reusable sticks contain enough nicotine to be bad for your health.

Manufacturers promote electronic cigarette as mimicking the sensation of smoking without exposing the user to the dangerous chemicals found in traditional cigarettes. But their main stimulant, liquid nicotine, could be just as dangerous to consumers, the New York Times reports.

Concerns about liquid nicotine go much farther than just affecting the person smoking. Poison control officials warn that even small amounts of the liquid pose a significant risk to the public if ingested or absorbed through the skin. Children, who may be drawn to refillable e-liquid’s bright color packaging and flavors, are at a higher risk of death from coming into contact with the toxin.

Most liquid nicotine levels in e-cigarettes range between 1.8% and 2.4%; enough to cause sickness in children and adults. Higher concentrations, 7.2% or more, which can be found through online retailers, could be lethal for children and adults.

Since 2011, there has been one death in the United States associated with liquid nicotine, the Times reports. In that case, an adult committed suicide by injecting the liquid.

“It’s not a matter of if a child will be seriously poisoned or killed,” says Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System and a professor of pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s a matter of when.”

In 2013, the number of accidental poisonings linked to liquid nicotine rose 300% from the previous year to 1,315 cases, many of which involved children. Minnesota reported 74 e-cigarette and nicotine poisoning cases last year, of those cases 29 involved children two and younger.

The number of accidental poisoning cases doesn’t look to be slowing down. In the first two months of this year, 23 of the 25 cases reported in Oklahoma involved children ages four and younger.

Officials say an increase in poisonings is a reflection of the more common use and the evolution of e-cigarettes in the United States. Because newer models can be refilled with a liquid combination of nicotine, flavoring and solvents, consumers may be at more risk of coming into direct contact with the toxins.

In the past, Consumerist has reported on issues with e-cigarettes, many of which have had more to do with the device itself than with liquid nicotine. The most common reports involved the products exploding while being used.

However, when an e-cigarette breaks users face the risk of shock and toxin poisoning. The Times reports a woman in Kentucky was admitted to the hospital with cardiac problems after her skin absorbed e-liquid when her e-cigarette broke.

Currently, there are no federal regulations protecting consumers from the products. However, many cities across the country have banned the products from being used in public places like parks and the subway.

Last October, 40 State Attorneys General agreed that e-cigarettes need to be regulated. The Food and Drug Administration plans to regulate the products but so far nothing has been announced. Additionally, it’s unknown how regulators would enforce rules with manufacturers outside the United States or operating online.

Some e-cigarette advocates say they would welcome regulations such as childproof bottles, warning labels and manufacturing standards.

Dr. Neal L. Benowitz, a professor at University of Southern California, tells the Times that manufacturing standards would likely include mandating proper precautions like wearing gloves while mixing e-liquids.

“There’s no risk to a barista no matter how much caffeine they spill on themselves,” Benowitz, who specializes in nicotine research, says. “Nicotine is different.”

Selling a Poison by the Barrel: Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes [The New York Times]

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  1. Terryc says:

    Yes and if a toddler chews my advil liquid gel’s it will also hospitalize them. My husband has MS. If his morphine is left out and a grandchild eats it they would die. He does not get his med’s in a child proof bottle because then he can not open it. It seems that no one is prepared to take responsibility for anything. Keep items that should be kept out of small childrens hands out of reach or locked away if needed. Ensure that people are aware that skin contact is a danger. But I really am not clear it should be regulated further. Sick to death of laws and regulations that treat adults like children. And the adults that sue because they do something stupid should be publicly humiliated. Doesn’t seem to be any other cure.
    Umm no I don’t need a disclaimer on windex saying don’t spray this directly in my eyes. Nor do I need a note on my bath salts saying don’t smoke them.

    • KyMann says:

      We’ve developed an odd culture.

      In nature, if you do something horrendously stupid, you don’t live long enough to complain. If you let your children do stupid things, they die before they can pass on your poor-parenting genes.

      I’m old enough to have seen society go from shunning people who do incredibly stupid things to supporting them (letting them sue) to embracing them (movies and YouTube).

    • DyinMyelin says:

      Wait. We can get morphine?

  2. xvdgry57 says:

    Then there is the issue of second hand toxicity.
    I know lots of people like to believe that regular combustible cigarettes don’t put carcinogens in to the air. The human body is not designed nor does it perform as a 100% perfect HEPA filter. Anything that goes in the lungs comes out mostly the same. Even oxygen removed by normal respiration is only about 5% less by volume (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breathing#Components) so we really can’t assume that traditional smoking is safe for bystanders trapped in an indoor environment with poor/no air circulation.
    WHY should we assume any less for E-cigarettes?
    The manufacturer has created a chemical (totally artificial or 100% organic: doesn’t matter) that is designed with only one consideration: customer addiction. No concerns for users’ safety other than the e-cig mechanism not causing arson should be assumed or expected. Further, medical testing protocols call for a substance to be tested and the subject it is tested upon; second-hand exposure model testing requires a standardized drug user substitute. The tobacco lawyers would be well advised to argue that any artificial cig or e-cig user used to simulate a human user in second-hand exposure testing could not be expected to be a consistent representative of all humans thus invalidating any data obtained in such a study.

    They can claim all day it is safe but these companies have a track record. Until people either fall dead from sickness directly caused by e-cigs or don’t we won’t know for sure. BUT this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t avoid this stuff like the plague.

    • KyMann says:

      Every time you see a study which says it might be dangerous, look at their fine print. They don’t ever actually measure what’s exhaled. It’s always speculation and assumptions.

      To date, only one study has ever been done by an independent researcher who actually collected and examined what’s exhaled.

      The data shows it’s safe!

      If you compare the data from that study with information available elsewhere, you see that someone chopping a pepper in an average-sized kitchen creates a higher level of nicotine in the air (pepper, tomatoes, and many other vegetables and fruits contain nicotine).

      As for other components, the base for most e-juice is the same chemical as used in many asthma inhalers — hardly something with a high risk of causing lung damage.

      And I respectfully point out that you’re wrong on one major issue — it’s not all about addiction. For many, it’s self-medication. Nicotine is an anti-depressant which is far more effective than any pill because it’s delivered only when needed and in dosage appropriate to the situation.

      Big Pharma is against e-cigs because it cuts into their profits from their ineffective stop-smoking pills. Your post illustrates well the hysteria and misinformation which they generate. It is sad that people believe such things when the truth is so readily available.

  3. Unholy79 says:

    Another day, another scary e-cigarette article hits the front page of Consumerist… ~sigh~.

    Nicotine is a poison?! No way. I don’t have an issue with requiring child proof bottles for e-cigarette fluid, but as a parent I also don’t keep the fluid within reach of a child. I see they now refer to propylene glycol as a solvent too… scary stuff. Alcohol can be used as a solvent as well, but I prefer it with ginger ale.

    I don’t hold any illusions that my e-cigarette is good for me, or that it can cure cancer or improve beard growth… but someone up top has it in for the technology and I’m getting a little tired of these scare articles. I’ve gotten the fluid on my skin… then I wash my hands. I’ve also accidentally ingested the fluid (which tastes like crap), and I spit it out. When used properly, these things are a helluva lot less dangerous than their analog alternative.

    • KyMann says:

      I wear gloves when mixing my e-juice. It’s always been something of a waste because they’ve never gotten so much as a drop on them, but when I’m dealing with something above 24mg/ml, I err on the side of caution.

      It’s a sad state of affairs that society now rewards bad parenting — let your kid play with something dangerous and when they inevitably get hurt, the courts will make you rich.

  4. CzarChasm says:

    “It’s not a matter of if a child will be seriously poisoned or killed,” says Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System and a professor of pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s a matter of when.”

    This comment really bothers me. How many things are there out there that do NOT present a risk of poisoning or choking when eaten by a small child. Are there any safe to eat drugs? How about laundry detergents? Cleaners?

    Oh my god! We need to think about the children: BAN ALL THE THINGS!

    • KyMann says:

      We must immediately sew shut the mouths of everyone under 18! They can be fed a Big Pharma/Big Givernment approved diet though a tiny straw (possession of such a straw during non-feeding times must carry a minimum penalty of 5 years in prison).

      (Actually, now that I think of it, maybe sewing their mouths shut doesn’t really sound like a bad idea. Imagine how much nicer it’d be in restaurants and on airplanes.)