Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes Can be Toxic


A dangerous form of a powerful stimulant – liquid nicotine – is readily available nationwide, and, if ingested or absorbed through the skin, it can be lethal.

Liquid nicotine, a powerful neurotoxin that can cause vomiting and seizures, is sold legally for refilling electronic cigarettes, The New York Times reports. But even small amounts – as little as a teaspoon of diluted e-liquid – can kill a child. E-liquids, which contain flavorings and colorings as well as nicotine, are sold in stores and online and are not regulated by federal authorities.

Toxicologists warn that e-liquids pose a significant risk, particularly to small children, who may be attracted to their bright colors and flavors like cherry, chocolate and bubble gum, according to the Times.  Experts worry that e-cigarette users, unaware of the dangers, may leave e-liquids where children have easy access to them.

Reports of accidental poisonings are rising, and the Times reports a surge in calls to poison control centers. Cases involving e-liquids totaled 1,351 in 2013, a 300 percent increase from such cases in 2012. The National Poison Data System said that number could double in 2014. In February, a 2-year-old Oklahoma City drank a small bottle of nicotine liquid; she was rushed an emergency room when she started vomiting. Minnesota poison control officials said that of 74 e-cigarette and nicotine poisoning calls in 2013, 29 involved children age 2 and under, and 23 of 25 cases in the first two months of this year involved children 4 and under, according to the Times. But the problems are not limited to children: a Kentucky woman, for example, was admitted to a hospital with cardiac problems after an e-cigarette broke and she absorbed the spilled e-liquid through her skin.

E-liquids are far more dangerous than tobacco, the Times reports, because the liquid is absorbed more quickly. “This is one of the most potent naturally occurring toxins we have,” said Lee Cantrell of the California Poison Control System and a professor of pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. The rise in nicotine poisonings reflects changes in e-cigarette technology. Early e-cigarettes were disposable devices resembling conventional cigarettes, but many are now reusable devices that can be refilled with an e-liquid.

Advocates of e-cigarettes, say the devices help people quit smoking and avoid the danger in cigarette smoke, but there are no long-term studies about whether e-cigarettes are better than nicotine gum or patches in helping people quit. And there is no information about the long-term effects of inhaling vaporized nicotine, according to the Times.