Child poisoning from vaping. Is it time to panic yet?

Posted on February 4, 2023 By Colin

THE ABC RECENTLY REPORTED an alarming rise in child poisoning from vapes [here]. Fortunately, a closer look reveals that this was just another scaremongering campaign to vilify vaping.

In 2022, the NSW Poisons Information Centre (PIC) received 213 calls about ‘exposure’ to e-cigarette fluid by children under the age of four. The NSW PIC handles about half the nation’s >200,000 ‘poisoning’ calls per year.

Of course, anti-vaping advocates were quick to jump on the bandwagon and magnify the risk.

"An alarming number of children under four years old were accidentally poisoned by vaping products last year, as a health expert warns they are being mistaken for dummies."

We need stronger government protections. Urgently.

— Dr Sandro Demaio (@SandroDemaio) February 1, 2023

However a closer look reveals a very different story.

Exposures are not 'poisoning'

The PIC reports are phone calls about actual or potential ‘exposure’ or a request for information - not 'poisoning'. As the PIC states, “Exposures do not necessarily represent a case of poisoning or overdose”

The Australian government says "Poisoning occurs when someone is sufficiently exposed to a substance that can cause illness, injury or death" (HealthDirect)

Calls could include an enquiry from a worried parent that a child had touched a vape or put a vape in the mouth. At worst, children under five might suck on a vape once or twice. It is hard to imagine anything more than minor throat irritation from such an exposure which would quickly put an end to the episode.

You can be certain that if there were serious outcomes, the media would report these with great excitement. However, there was not a single public report of actual 'poisoning', serious harm or death in children under five in 2022.

Lack of balance

The ABC interviewed two vaping opponents for their ‘poisoning’ story on unrelated matters - to add impact to the story. Professor Matthew Peters waffled on about fresh air and lungs, which is irrelevant to the issue of toddlers having (at most)  a suck on a vape. Simon Chapman wisely explained that teens are vaping because his granddaughter told him that young people like lemonade flavour.

Of course, no pro-vaping experts were consulted for balance

Exposures are rare

However, returning to the ‘poisoning' story, it would be helpful to have some context. Enquiries about accidental exposures to nicotine from e-cigarettes make up one or two in a thousand calls to the PIC. Exposures by toddlers to detergents, toilet cleaner, paracetamol, bleach and disinfectants were much more frequent and are far more harmful. Why was there no mention of that?

Substances which generated the most calls to NSWPIC, 2022, children under 5 - accidental exposures Count of calls
Hand Sanitiser 927
Detergents: Automatic dishwasher 834
Cleaner: Toilet bowl (cage/rim type) 788
Ibuprofen (systemic) 766
Paracetamol 727
Desiccant: Silica gel 558
Essential oils: Other/unknown 541
Cleaner: All-purpose/hard surface 516
Multivitamins without iron 481
Bleach: Hypochlorite based 461
Foreign body 407
Toys: Other/unknown 406
Plants: Oxalate 336
Disinfectant 335
Detergents: Laundry 310
Detergents: Hand-dish 305
Rodenticides: long acting anticoagulants 277
Soap 276
Air freshener / room deodoriser 268
Damp treatments 265
Pyrethrins/pyrethroids 259
Zinc Oxide Preparations 245
** eCigarette fluid 243
Melatonin 238
Fragrant oil/pot pourri oil 210

Any poisoning risk should be considered in the context of 21,000 annual deaths from smoking in Australia. Many of these could be prevented by the wider use of vaping nicotine

Also interesting is that 'poisoning' reports by anti-smoking drugs exceeds that from nicotine-liquid, but no hysterical reports appear about that. In 2018 the Victorian PIC reported 21 calls about nicotine liquid in children <5 years. In comparison there were 106 calls about anti-smoking products (NRT, varenicline and bupropion).

Of course toddlers should not be allowed to have contact with vapes. Parents should take responsibility for keeping them out of reach of children at all times.

But let’s not manipulate public perceptions and frighten people by exaggerating a minor risk

The recent wave of  anti-vaping hysteria

Have you noticed there has been a flood of dubious anti-vaping stories in the media over the last few weeks? It seems to be an orchestrated campaign by anti-vaping zealots to influence the outcome of the TGA Consultation which is currently under way.

My advice to Professor Chapman and friends is not to bother. The TGA has already decided to ignore the science once again and tighten the prescription model – the very approach which has created the black market and skyrocketing youth vaping experimentation.

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