The Minnesota Poison Control System saw a 35 percent jump in e-cigarette and e-juice poisonings among children from birth to 5 years old between 2013 and 2014. This marks the second year of significant increases in nicotine poisonings related to e-cigarette products, which can contain fatal levels of nicotine for children.
The Minnesota Department of Health issued a nicotine heath advisory to inform parents about the health dangers of accidental nicotine poisonings and the harms that can result from ongoing nicotine use among teens and among pregnant women.
“Many people think nicotine is addictive but not necessarily harmful on its own for teens and young adults, and that is not the case,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “We know there are clear health risks of nicotine exposure for youth.”
The nicotine health advisory is based on a summary of the latest research on the health risks of nicotine. The advisory reports that nicotine may harm brain development during adolescence. Pregnant women should also be concerned due to evidence that nicotine can harm fetal brain and lung development.
The teen years are a critical time for brain growth and development. As a result, adolescents are especially at risk from the harms caused by nicotine exposure. Evidence suggests that exposure to nicotine during adolescence may have long-term effects on brain development. Animal research has found that nicotine exposure in adolescence causes long-lasting changes in brain development. This could have negative implications for human adolescent learning, memory, attention, behavioral problems and future addiction.
The MDH nicotine health advisory reports that symptoms of nicotine poisoning may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and/or difficulty breathing. A fatal dose of nicotine for an adult is between 50 to 60 milligrams, and a fatal dose for children is expected to be less. E-juice containers may have varying amounts of nicotine, from zero milligrams up to 34 milligrams or higher.
Until recently, people were exposed to nicotine primarily by smoking tobacco in cigarettes and cigars. However, new and flavored tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, are becoming increasingly popular. In 2014 results from the Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey showed many teens use e-cigarettes; nearly 13 percent of high school students have used or tried them in the past 30 days.
These products can contain fatal levels of nicotine for children, who may mistake the e-juice for candy or a drink. Poisonings have jumped from three in 2012 to 62 in 2014. About half of the 2014 cases were treated by health care professionals at emergency departments. Poisonings include calls where unattended e-cigarette liquids were swallowed, inhaled, absorbed through the skin or came in contact with the eyes.
Beginning January 2015, a new Minnesota law took effect that requires e-juice to be sold in child-resistant packaging.
“This past year Minnesota took a big step to keep kids from accidently ingesting these potentially fatal e-liquids,” said Commissioner Ehlinger. “But parents should still use caution and store the products out of the reach of children.”
The Minnesota Poison Control System provides emergency poison medical management and poison prevention information to Minnesotans. The poison center is located at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and is nationally accredited by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Anyone with a poison-related question should call 1-800-222-1222. Service is available free of charge 24 hours a day, and is confidential.
For more information, visit Health Risks of Nicotine for Youth.