Toddler and Preschool  |  Infants  |  Nicotine and cigarettes

My Child Ate a Cigarette!

The Bottom Line

Nicotine is very poisonous. The amount in only one cigarette butt is enough to poison a child. Other forms of nicotine are also extremely poisonous: cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, nicotine gum if chewed by a child, nicotine patches if chewed on by a child, and liquid nicotine used for electronic cigarettes.

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

For More Information

Signs and symptoms of nicotine poisoning, along with treatment information (CDC).

Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 or use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool if someone has swallowed nicotine. If someone is having symptoms, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

Alcohol: A Dangerous Poison for Children (The Poison Post®)

Tip of the Day: Parties

Tip of the Day: Clean up after the party


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking and Tobacco Use: Fact Sheets [Internet]. Atlanta, GA; 2013 Mar 25 [cited 2013 Jun 6].

Connolly, GN, Richter P, Aleguas A, et al. Unintentional child poisonings through ingestion of conventional and novel tobacco products. Pediatrics 2010;125(5):896-899.


Call 1-800-222-1222 or

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Prevention Tips

  • ALWAYS store cigarettes and other nicotine products where children cannot see or reach them. This includes "smoke juice", liquid nicotine for electronic cigarettes.
  • ALWAYS make sure that discarded nicotine products, such as cigarette and cigar butts, chewing tobacco, flavored tobacco, nicotine gum or patches, are out of sight and reach of children or pets.

This Really Happened

An 8-month-old child swallowed two old cigarette butts while in the care of a sitter. When the mother arrived at home, the child seemed drowsy and limp, so she called paramedics. The child was transported to the hospital where she was given oxygen. Her breathing was slow and she was very drowsy. The child couldn't breathe well enough by herself; a breathing tube was placed and attached to a ventilator. Gastric lavage was performed to help wash out her stomach and she was given activated charcoal; these were used to reduce the amount of nicotine absorbed by her bloodstream. The nicotine had also caused the child to produce excess secretions which were making it hard to breathe. Medication was administered to dry her secretions. She was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit where she remained minimally responsive for the rest of the night. The next day, the child could breathe on her own. After three days in the hospital, her symptoms resolved and she was released.

Summarized from:  Borys DJ, Setzer SC, and Ling LJ. CNS depression in an infant after the ingestion of tobacco: a case report. Vet Hum Toxicol. 1988, Feb; 30(1): 20-22.