Liquid Nicotine in E-Cigarettes Prompts Poisoning Concerns

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The idea behind e-cigarettes is to let smokers get their nicotine fix without inhaling all the carcinogens in regular cigarettes.

But there's a risk to that as well.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers, or AAPCC, is warning the number of poisoning cases among children from liquid nicotine--the main ingredient in e-cigs--has increased 300 percent in the past year.

In 2013, there were more than 1,300 calls to poison control centers nationwide, and AAPCC predicts the number of accidental poisonings is on pace to double in 2014.

Whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, toxicologists are also warning even a small dose of liquid nicotine in some cases can be dangerous.

"If you happen to have one of the higher concentrations nicotine preparations, then the risk is much, much greater there with an accidental exposure," said Dr. Jim Galligan, a pharmacology and toxicology professor with Michigan State.

Exposure can induce vomiting or seizures, and children are particularly vulnerable, considering the substance is often packaged and marketed with bright colors and appealing flavors.

"Parents in the household who are using these products, they really have to pay attention to where they're storing them" Galligan said.

"They have to treat the nicotine solutions just like any other potential poison in the home."

In Michigan, there were 31 reported cases of accidental liquid nicotine poisonings in all of 2013. So far, in just the first three months of 2014, there have already been 20 reported cases, with six of those involving children under the age of three, according to Susan Smolinske, managing director of Children's Hospital of Michigan Regional Poison Control Center.

Smolinske contributes the rise in cases to the increased availability of e-cigarettes.

It's an increase Kyle Coffey, manager at "That's How We Roll" smoke shop in Lansing can attest to as well.

"Demand is very high," he said. "We're having trouble staying stocked up."

With e-cig sales up, the sales of what's used to refill them is too, but Coffey contends his shop is careful with the kind of liquid nicotine they sell.

"All of our stuff has a child safety cap on it," Coffey said. "It's manufactured by Kalamazoo Vapor Shop which is pretty reliable for making solid products."

Coffey said he doesn't see the harm in regulating the liquids and adding warning labels, and also supports the larger efforts in the state currently to regulate e-cigarette sales.

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