The numbers are rising. From just one call a month in September 2010 to 215 calls a month in February 2014, e-cigarettes have become the reason for the increasing number of calls to U.S. poison centers according to a report released by the CDC on April 3, 2014. The report revealed that more than half (51.1 percent) of e-cigarette-related calls to poison centers involved young children under age 5, and about 42 percent of the calls involved people aged 20 and older.
Poisoning related to e-cigarettes occurs when the liquid nicotine used in the e-cigarette devices is ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin or eyes. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, stated, “This report raises another red flag about e-cigarettes – the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can be hazardous.” Many people believe that e-cigarettes are healthier than conventional ones due to the absence of tar and tobacco. Some claim that e-cigarettes may even be effective smoking cessation devices. “There’s enough data to conclude that they are much safer than regular cigarettes” says Michael B. Siegel, professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.
However, e-cigarettes have not been on the market for long enough and so the data does not explore the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes. Despite the absence of many chemicals found in conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes still contain nicotine. Current studies also show that use/overuse of nicotine can lead to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, back pain, depression, anxiety, nausea and sleep disturbances. Also, according to Dr. Robert Lahita, chairman of medicine and vice president of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, “nicotine goes right to the brain and becomes a very potent addictive agent, which can cause circulatory disorders and increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke.”
Despite these health hazards, the use of e-cigarettes is skyrocketing. This rise is a threat especially to small children because the containers in which they are sold are not required to be childproof (include childproof caps and warning labels). They are also sold in flavors that appeal to children. This last issue is an issue that is particularly threatening to public health. A study by JAMA Pediatrics suggested that young people who use e-cigarettes are more prone to smoking other tobacco products and conventional cigarettes due to the highly addictive nature of nicotine. The CDC also revealed that the percentage of middle school and high school students who have experimented with e-cigarettes doubled from 3.3% in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012.
There have recently been several proposals for bills that would ban companies from marketing e-cigarettes to children. Two members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation, Representative Elizabeth Esty and Senator Richard Blumenthal, have advocated for the ban on flavors that they say are targeted at minors.
In addition to the health hazards of e-cigarettes, it was warned that lesser known brand e-cigarettes are a potential fire hazard. This warning came on April 9, 2014 after an 18 year old barmaid was hit by an exploding e-cigarette that had been left plugged into a charger.