The Full Story
In the United States, an estimated 43.8 million people smoke cigarettes. This is about 19% of all adults 18 years or older. Because cigarette use is so common among adults, children can often reach cigarettes. Infants and children are naturally curious, touching and tasting just about everything – including tobacco products. Children often imitate adults.
Poison Control is frequently called about children who swallow discarded cigarette butts. But parents also call about other tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco or snuff. The tobacco industry constantly introduces new products meant to attract new, often younger, customers. Flavored tobacco, usually smoked through a hookah, is a growing trend. There are even dissolvable tobacco products that look like breath mints or strips. (Some examples are Camel Orb®, Ariva®, and Stonewall®.) The more teenagers and adults use tobacco products, the more likely it is that infants and children will find and swallow them.
The main active ingredient in cigarettes and other tobacco products is nicotine. Nicotine is highly toxic. As little as 1 milligram (mg) of nicotine, a very small amount, can cause symptoms in an infant. One whole cigarette has 13 - 30 mg of nicotine, while one cigarette butt contains 5 - 7 mg.
The most commonly poisoned children are 6 years old or younger. When children swallow cigarettes or other types of tobacco products, their symptoms will be directly related to the dose of nicotine they received. Nicotine acts in the brain. Mild nicotine poisoning causes nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tremors, sweating and high blood pressure. Severe poisoning can be life-threatening and lead to seizures. Seizures can begin in as little as 20 - 30 minutes.
To prevent nicotine poisoning:
- NEVER store cigarettes and other nicotine products where children can see or reach them.
- ALWAYS make sure that discarded nicotine products, such as cigarette butts, chewing tobacco, flavored tobacco, and nicotine gum or patches, are out of sight and reach of children or pets.
If your child swallows a piece of a cigarette or butt, cigar, chewing tobacco or any other nicotine products, use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control right away at 1-800-222-1222. The webPOISONCONTROL® tool or the poison specialist will tell you exactly what to do.
When you use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool or call Poison Control, you will be asked your child's weight, the name of the product, and whether your child is having any symptoms. Poison Control will then tell you if you can safely watch your child at home. If so, Poison Control will tell you what to look out for. Poison Control will follow-up in 1 - 2 hours to see how your child is doing and to tell you if additional treatment is required.
If your child needs emergency treatment, the poison specialist will let you know right away. While you and your child are on the way, Poison Control will call the emergency room and give treatment advice. Poison Control and the emergency room will stay in touch until your child is out of danger.
Serkalem Mekonnen, RN, BSN, MPH
Certified Specialist in Poison Information