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Eric T. Chaffin
Eric T. Chaffin
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The Dangers of E-Cigarettes Spread to Children

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that there’s been a dramatic increase in poisonings related to e-cigarettes. According to their recent study, the number of calls to poison centers concerning the liquid nicotine used in these cigarettes increased from one a month in September 2010, to a staggering 215 a month in February 2014.

Even more concerning is the fact that over half of these calls involved young children.

What’s causing this increase?

What are E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes (also called “vaporizer cigarettes”) are battery-operated devices that create a nicotine-laced vapor that can be inhaled, while producing a smokeless cloud. Users enjoy the cigarette-like experience without exposure to tobacco-related chemicals. Many are also available in flavors like peach schnapps and piña colada.

Manufacturers have advertised e-cigarettes as being safer than regular brands. “No odor, no ash, no tobacco smoke,” says leading brand “Blu” on their website. Somehow, the devices have gained a reputation as a smoking-cessation aid, as well.

Do They Help Smokers Quit?

A January 2014 article in the Daily Mail noted that the Royal College of Physicians and a number of general practitioners “now back [e-cigarettes] as a safer alternative to smoking.” They add that some small studies have suggested they help smokers quit. Even the National Health Service (NHS) has called them the “lesser of two evils” when compared to regular cigarettes, because of the lower level of dangerous chemicals like nitrosamines and formaldehyde.

Research from the University of California, however, found that smokers using e-cigarettes were no more likely to have quit a year down the road than those using regular cigarettes. In fact, among U.S. smokers, those using e-cigarettes were less likely to have quit at seven months than those who didn’t use e-cigarettes.

“Advertising suggesting that e-cigarettes are effective for smoking cessation should be prohibited until such claims are supported by scientific evidence,” reported lead author Pamela Ling.

Danger to Children

Besides the debate on the safety of the e-cigarettes when smoked or their possible use as a cessation tool, what about the danger to children?

The “cool” factor of “vaping,” as it’s called—with many celebrities now steaming up—coupled with the pretty colors and fun flavors (including chocolate) make e-cigarettes appealing to youngsters. U.S. schools have banned them from school property because of this concern and the worry that young people will start vaping and become addicted to nicotine.

The liquid used to refill the device has become an additional, serious issue. Children can be exposed to high levels of nicotine when they either drink the liquid or get it on their skin. The containers are not currently required to be childproof, and the fruit flavors and fancy colors make them look like something fun to drink.

“What’s attractive to kids: It’s the smell,” Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center, told CNN. “It’s the scent. It’s the color. A kid’s not going to know the difference between a poison and something they can drink.”

According to Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California poison control system, “as little as a teaspoon of highly concentrated liquid nicotine could cause serious harm.” Some of the liquids come in concentrated containers that could even be deadly for very young children.

So far, the FDA does not regulate these liquids, though a new rule may change that. There are no standards for how the products are packaged or sold, and though the CDC says only one death has been reported so far (an intentional suicide), if changes aren’t implemented soon, that may also change. Attorneys, through representing victims, may be the ones that end up truly addressing the seriousness of the issue.