Poison Control Center Calls Increasing Because Of E-Cigarettes

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A source of poisoning in Pittsburgh is actually electronic: e-cigarettes.

“The volume of calls is definitely increasing,” says Pittsburgh Poison Control Center Director Dr. Michael Lynch.

To use e-cigarettes, you would pour concentrated liquid nicotine into a cartridge, which is then heated to create a vapor. Spilling, tasting and splashing the liquid has led people to call the poison hotline.

“It works in many ways like a nerve gas,” Dr. Lynch says. “As little as a teaspoon can be deadly.”

The Pittsburgh Poison Control Center had 12 calls of poisoning in 2012, and 18 in 2013, and so far, 13 this year, which is on track to exceed last year.

The symptoms are rapid, but short-lived. With bigger exposures, there are more serious consequences.

“Initially, nausea and vomiting, then confusion, potentially seizures,” Dr. Lynch said. “An adult accidentally spilling it, because you absorb nicotine through the skin. Just over 50 percent of our exposures are from children 6 and under, getting into it accidentally.”

There are even consequences for pets that are exposed.

“Someone whose neighbor disposes of their cartridges and things on their sidewalk, like a regular cigarette, you can imagine pets walking through that stuff, or licking it up,” he says.

The liquid inside these battery-operated devices is unregulated, can be sold to minors and can be flavored like fruit and chocolate.

Because they are not being marketed as a medicine, e-cigarettes do not fall under FDA review.

“If you going to have it in your house, we do recommend that you lock it away like you would any powerful medication,” Dr. Lynch said.

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