E-cigarettes poisoning epidemic level of kids, study says

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E-cigarettes have been marketed as a safer alternative for smokers than traditional tobacco products, but a new study shows an alarming number of young children are exposed to poisoning from e-cigarettes.

So many children have been exposed to e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine, in fact, that researchers are calling it an epidemic and are urging government regulators to take action.

Calls to poison control centers have steadily increased since electronic cigarettes hit the U.S. market nearly a decade ago, but from January 2012 through April 2015, a new study shows calls skyrocketed nearly 1,500 percent.

"By the end of the study, roughly every three hours there's a call to a poison control center for a child that's been exposed to an e-cigarette or liquid nicotine. That's about seven children a day. That is an epidemic by any definition," says Dr. Gary Smith with Nationwide Children's Hospital. He was a senior author of the study. 

Researchers found over a 40 month period, more than 4,000 children were exposed to e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine. Children under the age of 3 were most vulnerable.

The liquid can actually cause poisoning by being absorbed through a child's skin. However, 90 percent of children were exposed by swallowing the liquid.

"It can cause severe medical outcomes among children, including coma, seizures, and respiratory arrest, which is when a child stops breathing. In this study we even had one death due to exposure to liquid nicotine," Dr. Smith says.

Smith says e-cigarettes are not currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. And, although the government prohibits flavors in cigarettes, liquid nicotine for e-cigarettes comes in candy and fruit flavors that attract children.

"Not only is it attractive, but the top is not child resistant; it can be easily removed. That's why parents have to remember to put this up, away, and out of sight of children. Preferably in a locked cabinet," he adds. 

Smith is urging the FDA to take immediate action to regulate the products before even more children are poisoned.

In July, a new federal law will require e-cigarette liquids to be sold in bottles that are child resistant. Smith says while that is important, it is only a first step.

He would like to see the government ban flavored liquid nicotine, as was done for cigarettes back in 2009.