The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that the number of calls to Poison Control Centers related to e-cigarettes is significantly on the rise. Initial tracking of these numbers disclosed an average of one call per month in 2010. However, that number has grown to nearly 200 calls per month thus far in 2014. Dr. Kevin Chatham-Stephen, pediatrician and epidemiologist with the CDC, authored the report, which states in part that while e-cigarette use totals less than 2 percent of all tobacco-related sales, the number exceeds more than 40 percent of poison center calls. 51 percent of those calls involve children 5 years of age and younger who were dangerously exposed to the liquid nicotine inside the e-cigarette cylinder.
Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center, opines the scent of the vapor and the color are attractive to children and they are not going to know the difference between something that is poison and something they can drink. Poisonings can occur via the ingestion process through the skin or eyes. Symptoms of poisoning may include nausea and eye irritation. Lopez’s poison center has received complaints from people who have merely spilled the liquid nicotine on themselves.
The CDC has documented the toxicity of the substance when a person who injected himself to commit suicide had used it. In 2011 the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about potential health risks associated with e-cigarettes after tests revealed the presence of known cancer-causing substances. The CDC report documents the danger of immediate physical harm that can be caused by direct exposure to the liquid nicotine inside e-cigarette cylinders. Authorities on the subject are in apparent agreement that there have not been enough studies to produce sufficient data to make any specific health claims.
Notwithstanding, according to American Lung Association president and CEO Harold P. Wimmer, marketing of the product with flavors such as Bazooka Bubble Gum, Cap’n Crunch, Banana, and Cotton Candy are now available. He also cites the CDC report that revealed the use of e-cigarettes among high school and middle school-aged students doubled in just one year: that 1 in 10 high school students have used an e-cigarette, and nationwide 1.78 million middle and high school students are e-cigarette smokers.
According to Mr. Wimmer, nicotine is a substance proven to be highly addictive and when 400,000 cigarette smokers die each year and thousands more quit smoking, tobacco companies are faced with the need to replace those who were once regular paying customers. He stated, “The industry needs to attract and addict thousands of children each day, as well as keep adults dependent to maintain its huge profits.” Although he acknowledged that harmful effects from exposure to the secondhand vapor emitted from e-cigarettes is unknown, he cited two studies that found formaldehyde, benzene, and tobacco-specific carcinogens present in vapor emissions.
As a result of the documented increase in the use of the devices, particularly among young people, the drastic increase in calls to poison centers, and the unknown harmful effects of exposure of e-cigarette vapor, independent health groups like the American Lung Association, are calling upon the government to step in and regulate the devices. However, advocates of the e-cigarette claim that some health experts believe they might be useful in helping people who want to quit smoking.
Consequently, they are urging the FDA not to take control over what they are calling a life-saving product. The FDA responded that without regulation there would be no way to determine what nicotine compounds are being added to e-cigarettes that may or may not be dangerous when someone is directly exposed to the liquid or the vapor it emits. Most will agree that cigarettes have long been understood to pose serious health problems and the marketing of the e-cigarette has included the idea that they are a quit-smoking aid. However, manufacturers contradicted this marketing strategy when they fought the FDA’s attempt to regulate e-cigarettes in the production of a quit-smoking aid, and defeated the FDA in federal appeals court.
By Mark Politi