Nicotine poisonings from e-cigarette solutions up dramatically especially among young children

TULSA - Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are advertised as an alternative to smoking. Users call it “vaping” because e-cigarettes vaporize cartridges of flavored liquids, called “e-juice” or “e-cig” solution.

The solution may or may not contain nicotine. The cartridges are re-filled from small vials purchased at e-cigarette stores. Nearly two dozen such outlets have opened in the Tulsa area in the past couple of years. The vials don’t require child-proof caps. 

While no children have died in Oklahoma from nicotine poisoning, last year one out of four poisoned had to be hospitalized and half of those poisoned were preschoolers.

Dr. Gopal Chandrasekharan of Tulsa’s Morton Health Clinic says preschoolers are an age group eager to touch or taste new things. They’re also attracted to the pretty colors and candy, cola, or fruit flavors of many e-cig solutions.

“The more enticing the flavor becomes and more dangerous and the more risk there is for the child to consume a huge amount of it.”

Toxicologist Dr. Ken Kulig said it doesn’t take much nicotine to make a child sick.

“The toxic dose of nicotine for a child is roughly 30 milligrams to 6 milligrams. Some of the cartridges have 500 milligrams.”

Nicotine solution for e-cigarettes is sold in a wide variety of strengths, but because there is no regulation, the actual amount in the vial isn’t certain. Oklahoma’s Poison Control Center said when a person smokes a cigarette, about two milligrams of nicotine gets into their bloodstream. They say, compare that to what a child can be exposed to if they taste or touch the liquid. 

If a child swallows a single teaspoon of 24 milligram-strength e-cigarette solution, it actually contains 120 milligrams of nicotine. It’s the equivalent of smoking three packs of cigarettes all at once.

Nicotine is a neuro-toxin and can poison two ways. A person can be poisoned by swallowing it or through contact with the skin, meaning kids don’t have to drink the liquid to be harmed. They only have to touch it.

Symptoms of nicotine poisoning can vary depending on how much gets into a person’s system.

The range of symptoms runs from facial flushing, stomach irritation and altered mental states to rapid heart rates, plunging heart rates and big drops in blood pressure. In certain cases, nicotine poisoning can cause comas and, in extreme cases, death.

What should you do if you know or suspect a child has gotten into e-cigarette solution? Dr. Chandrasekharan says, whether the child drank it or had skin contact, it is vital to immediately call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. 

If the liquid was swallowed, DO NOT induce vomiting. However, if there is skin contact, it is important to quickly wash the area thoroughly with mild soap and lots of water. And, to protect children from exposure in the first place, parents are urged to keep e-cigarettes and the solutions used to refill them far out of reach of children.

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