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March 25, 2014

Nicotine poisonings of children is on rise

NORMAN — With more Oklahomans buying e-cigarettes, the number of poisonings from liquid nicotine used in the device also is on the rise, especially with children.

In 2013, the Oklahoma Poison Control Center received 77 calls about liquid nicotine poisoning, up more than sixfold from 12 calls in 2012. The center received one call in 2010 and eight calls in 2011.

Nationally, there were 427 e-liquid exposures in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, the National Poison Data System reports.

The battery-operated cigarettes have cartridges filled with nicotine, other chemicals and flavor that, when heated, create a vapor the user inhales.

The concentrated amount of liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can cause seizures, arrhythmia, vomiting, diarrhea and even death if ingested or absorbed through the skin in a significant dose.

What constitutes a significant amount varies according to a person’s size and their previous nicotine use. Even a teaspoon can be deadly for a small child, Oklahoma Poison Control Director Scott Schaeffer said.

The majority of e-liquid poisonings happen with children, many of those under age 2. Out of the 27 calls so far this year in Oklahoma, only three poisonings involved adults. The problem comes when parents refill their own e-cigarette cartridges. They can spill liquid or leave the bottles out, then their child gets into it, Schaeffer said.

Oklahoma has had no fatalities from liquid nicotine, but about half of Oklahoma Poison Control callers this year about the substance have been referred to a hospital for treatment.

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit journalism group that produces in-depth reporting on public-policy issues. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to oklahomawatch.org.

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