Nicotine poisoning is rarely serious and continues to decline each year

Posted by DrMendelsohn on 2 December, 2017

E-liquid poisoning is rarely serious and is continuing to decline each year, according to the latest data from the American Association of Poison Centres.

The Association collects data from 50 poison centres across the country.  In the first 11 months of 2017 there were 2,229 calls for exposure to e-cigarettes and e-liquid compared to 17,154 cases of exposure to hand sanitiser. The rate of exposure is continuing to decline over the last few years. Note that the term "exposure" means someone has had contact with the substance in some way; for example, ingested, inhaled, absorbed by the skin or eyes, etc. Not all exposures are poisonings or overdoses.

 Ecig and nicotine exposure 2012-2017 AAPCC Nov 2017.jpg

More than half of reported exposures to e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine occurred in young children under the age of 6, which is consistent with other substances.

Exposures to e-cigarettes and e-liquid are far less than for other household poisons like bleach and washing up liquid. The following graph compares exposures to e-liquid for all ages (red, updated to blue), laundry pods and hand sanitiser.

 Calls to US Poisons Centres eliquids, laundry pods, hand sanitiser 2012-Nov2017. AAPCC data.jpg

What is the risk from exposure?

Nicotine is a toxic compound in a highly concentrated solution. However, the standard concentrations used for vaping are low, usually 1-2%. In the case of ingestion, most cases result in prompt vomiting and serious outcomes are rare.

According to Public Health England, the risk of poisoning from ingesting e-liquids is comparable to other potentially poisonous household substances.

In Australia, there have been no deaths from nicotine poisoning from e-liquid, although 2 or 3 cases have been reported overseas.

How to reduce the risk of accidental exposure

  • Keep e-liquid in a tamper proof container and out of the sight and reach of children
  • Dispose of e-liquid properly to prevent exposure to pets and children from the residue or liquid left in the container
  • Adults should use care to protect their skin when handling the products
  • In the event of exposure to liquid nicotine, call the poison Centre. In Australia, this is 131 126.

Poisons Information Centre.png

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