Study: Exponential Increase Of Liquid Nicotine Exposure In Young Children

May 9, 2016

With the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes, the number of small children getting sick from liquid nicotine has increased dramatically. Nationwide Children’s Hospital reports vapor cigarettes account for a 1,500 percent increase in liquid nicotine exposure, since 2012.

The number of cases of children under 6 years of age being exposed to the liquid nicotine from e-cigarettes has gone from a "relative few" to "more than 1,000" each year, according Henry Spiller, who directs the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital. 

While traditional cigarettes continue to be the leading cause of unintentional nicotine ingestion by children - 60 percent - Spiller said it takes many more cigarettes to make a child as sick as a small dose of concentrated liquid nicotine.

“You’d have to ingest somewhere on the order of 3 packs of cigarettes. No child chews down, you know, 60 cigarettes," he said. "That was one of the saving graces, is they might get sick, but they’d just get to that point where it was vomiting…we weren’t seeing them come in with the cardiac arrhythmias and the seizures.”

E-cigarettes work by vaporizing the liquid nicotine inhaled by users, and the devices are refillable, often with sweet-smelling, flavored products attractive to small children. 

“Nicotine is a nerve poison," Spiller said. "In these concentrations, a teaspoon, a mouthful can cause convulsions, seizures, send them to the hospital."

The more that's ingested, "You get muscle weakness. We see respiratory difficulties because the muscles that we use to breathe kind of get paralyzed." he said. 

While the most severe poisoning cases lead to an emergency room visit or a hospital stay, Spiller said one child has died from liquid nicotine exposure. 

In July, federal law will require e-cigarette refills to have a child-proof closure.