E-cigarette Poisonings Increase

Electronic cigarettes increase poison control center calls among children and adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Electronic cigarettes have grown in popularity over the past several years. But greater popularity and use also mean more opportunities for children to find them.

A recent study reported that calls to US poison control centers related to e-cigarettes have been steadily increasing. The calls involving e-cigarettes were also more likely to result in negative health effects than the calls related to regular tobacco cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that let consumers inhale nicotine, along with flavors and other chemicals, like a cigarette.

"Keep e-cigarettes away from children."

The study, led by Kevin Chatham-Stephens, MD, an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at the number of calls to poison control centers related to e-cigarettes.

The researchers compared the calls related to regular cigarettes with the calls related to e-cigarettes at US poison control centers from September 2010 through February 2014.

They looked at the proportion of calls from health care facilities, the characteristics of people calling, the way the person was exposed to the product and the negative health effects they experienced.

Any call that involved exposure to the e-cigarette device or to the liquid nicotine that goes into it was counted in the study.

For the comparison to regular cigarettes, only calls involving tobacco cigarettes (not cigarettes butts) were included, and calls involving cigarettes along with other exposures (alcohol, etc.) were not included.

During the time frame studied, poison centers reported 2,405 e-cigarette calls and 16,248 tobacco cigarette calls from across the US.

The number of calls related to e-cigarettes progressively increased over the study period though.

Only one call about e-cigarettes was reported for September 2010, but by February 2014, a total of 215 calls came in.

Meanwhile, the average number of calls for tobacco cigarettes was about 301 to 512 per month, with higher averages in summer months.

While e-cigarettes accounted for only 0.3 percent of all cigarette calls (electronic and tobacco) in September 2010, that proportion rose to 42 percent by the end of the study period.

Nearly all the calls related to tobacco cigarettes — 95 percent of them — involved children 5 years old and younger.

The calls related to e-cigarettes also involved a narrow majority (51 percent) of children aged 5 and under, but they also frequently involved adults over age 20 (42 percent of calls).

Tobacco cigarettes were most likely to have been eaten, which included 98 percent of all calls for them. Only 69 percent of calls involving e-cigarettes had to do with them being ingested.

Instead, e-cigarettes were more likely to have been inhaled or to have been exposed to the eyes or skin.

The researchers found that e-cigarette calls involved negative health effects in 58 percent of the calls, compared to 36 percent among tobacco cigarette calls.

Vomiting, nausea and eye irritation were the most common health issues reported in connection with e-cigarette calls.

"Given the rapid increase in e-cigarette-related exposures, of which 51.1 percent were among young children, developing strategies to monitor and prevent future poisonings is critical," the researchers noted.

"Health-care providers; the public health community; e-cigarette manufacturers, distributors, sellers, and marketers; and the public should be aware that e-cigarettes have the potential to cause acute adverse health effects and represent an emerging public health concern," they wrote.

The findings were reported in the CDC's April 4 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The study was internally funded, and the authors did not report conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 5, 2014
Last Updated:
April 7, 2014