With more Oklahomans buying e-cigarettes, the number of poisonings from liquid nicotine used in the device is also on the rise, especially with children.
In 2013, the Oklahoma Poison Control Center received 77 calls about liquid nicotine poisoning, up more than sixfold from the 12 calls in 2012. The center received one call in 2010 and eight calls in 2011.
Nationally, there were 427 e-liquid exposures in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, the National Poison Data System reports.
The battery-operated cigarettes have cartridges filled with nicotine, other chemicals and flavor that, when heated, create a vapor the user inhales.
The concentrated amount of liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can cause seizures, arrhythmia, vomiting, diarrhea and even death if ingested or absorbed through the skin in a significant dose.
What constitutes a significant amount varies according to a person’s size and their previous nicotine use. Even a teaspoon can be deadly for a small child, Oklahoma Poison Control Director Scott Schaeffer said.
“It really is one of the most toxic substances we know,” Schaeffer said.
The majority of e-liquid poisonings happen with children, many of those under age 2. Out of the 27 calls so far this year in Oklahoma, only three poisonings involved adults.
Often, the problem comes when parents refill their own e-cigarette cartridges. They can spill liquid or leave the bottles out and then their child gets into it, Schaeffer said.
Most nicotine poisonings involve children because they are attracted to the bright colors or appealing smells of the e-liquids. Children also tend to explore their environment and e-liquids don’t have childproof containers, Schaeffer said.
Oklahoma has had no fatalities from liquid nicotine, but about half of Oklahoma Poison Control callers this year about the substance have been referred to a hospital for treatment.
Oklahoma ranked 11th highest in adult smoking rates in 2012, with 23 percent of adults who smoked, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported in August. The ranking was better than in 2011, when Oklahoma had the fourth highest rate.