The Full Story
Tobacco and cigarette smoking in the United States have been declining over the last few years. A growing new trend is electronic cigarettes (often referred to as "e-Cigs" or "vapor cigarettes").
Electronic cigarettes are used by people who don't want to smoke but do want to use nicotine: adults, teens, and even younger children. About 20 percent of U.S. adult smokers have used electronic cigarettes. Middle-school students are using e-Cigs at double the rate of a few years ago. About 10 percent of high school students admit to smoking electronic cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes are designed to look like real cigarettes. A tiny heating element inside the e-Cig turns a small container of liquid into a vapor. The vapor is then inhaled by the user.
This liquid is often called "e-liquid" or "smoke juice". It may be flavored to smell and taste like mint, chocolate, coffee, or various fruits. The active ingredient in "smoke juice" and electronic cigarettes is nicotine - very concentrated nicotine. Even a small taste of this liquid can cause nicotine poisoning in a child.
Nicotine is the poisonous chemical found in the tobacco plant. Nicotine poisoning often causes nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tremors (shakiness), and sweating, and can make the heart beat much faster than normal. Severe poisoning can cause seizures. It can even cause death. Seizures can begin only 20-30 minutes after swallowing products containing nicotine.
- Always keep children away from ANY product that contains nicotine, especially the concentrated nicotine liquid used in electronic cigarettes.
- Avoid keeping any product containing liquid nicotine or "smoke juice" in a household where children live or are likely to visit.
- Always store the product in its original container.
- Lock these products safely out of sight and reach of children and pets. (That includes "smoke juice", cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco – and dirty ashtrays.)
- Remember that used "smoke juice" containers may still contain nicotine. Wrap them up so kids and pets can't dig them out of the trash.
If you suspect that your child has swallowed any nicotine-containing product, or you've splashed it in the eye or on the skin, immediately call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 or use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool.
Take home message:
- Electronic cigarettes (e-Cigs) are devices made to look like real cigarettes. They contain a battery, a heater, and liquid nicotine.
- When heated, the nicotine liquid becomes a nicotine vapor, which users inhale.
- Liquid nicotine products are called "e-liquid" or "smoke juice". In addition to nicotine, they contain flavorings and something to help the product vaporize, often propylene glycol or glycerol.
- Liquid nicotine products are very poisonous if swallowed.
Robert Porter, BS, MPH, PharmD
Certified Specialist in Poison Information
Cameron JM, Howell DN, White JR, Andrenyak DM, Layton ME, Roll JM.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Notes from the field: electronic cigarette use among middle and high school students –United States, 2011-2012.MMWR. 2013;62:729-730.
Solarino B, Rosenbaum F, Rießelmann, Buschmann CT, Tsokos M. Death due to ingestion of nicotine-containing solutions: case report and review of the literature. Forensic Science International. 2010; 195:e19-e22.