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E-cigarettes - a new threat to children's safety

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The growing popularity of e-cigarettes has led to a jump in calls to Florida poison centers involving children swallowing liquid nicotine.

The rise in calls to Florida poison centers mirrors what’s going on nationwide. The number of calls to poison centers in the United States involving liquid nicotine jumped from just one in September 2010 to 215 in February 2014, according to a recent U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention study. A little more than half of the cases involved children under 5 years old.

The e-cigarette industry estimates that more than 3.5 million e-cigarettes are now sold annually, compared to about 50,000 sold in 2008. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that simulate cigarettes, turning liquid nicotine into a vapor mist.

“Use of these products is skyrocketing and these poisonings will continue,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden after nationwide figures on poisoning cases were recently released. “E-cigarette liquids as currently sold are a threat to small children because they are not required to be childproof, and they come in candy and fruit flavors that are appealing to children.”

A fear is that since liquid nicotine can come in such flavors as chocolate or blueberry, small children may try to drink the product, said Wendy Stephan, health education coordinator at Florida Poison Information Center-Miami. An increased dose could lead to seizures and even death if the concentration of nicotine is high enough and the child consumes enough relative to body weight.

“This is certainly something we’re watching,” Stephan said. “We see the potential for a fatal poisoning.”

She said that besides young children swallowing the liquid, the Florida Poison Information Center has learned of older children who ingest liquid nicotine thinking they could get high from it.

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