Skip to content ↓
Press Room

Dramatic Increase in E-Cigarette-Related Calls to U.S. Poison Centers Underlines Need for Regulation

Note: World Lung Foundation united with The Union North America. From January 2016, the combined organization is known as “Vital Strategies.”

(New York, USA) ––World Lung Foundation today noted with alarm a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), highlighting a dramatic increase in poisonings related to e-cigarettes. The study adds to a growing body of evidence underlining the urgent need for regulation of electronic cigarettes and related products by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the need for the marketing, sale and use of e-cigarettes to be subject to the same restrictions as traditional cigarettes.

According to CDC, poison centers reported 2,405 e-cigarette and 16,248 cigarette exposure calls between September 2010 and February 2014. E-cigarettes represented only 0.3 percent of total calls involving e-cigarettes and cigarettes in September 2010; this had increased to 41.7 percent by February 2014. E-cigarette calls were more likely than cigarette calls to report an adverse health effect – most commonly vomiting, nausea, and eye irritation – following exposure.

Dr. Neil Schluger, Chief Scientific Officer, World Lung Foundation, commented: “The e-cigarette industry and its supporters promote vaping as the safer alternative to tobacco but this study clearly raises serious concerns about the actual risks associated with these products. When e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine are ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin or eyes, they present a real risk of poisoning. That risk is particularly dangerous – and can be fatal – for young children, who were the subject of over 50 percent of e-cigarette-related calls to poison centers.

“While the e-cigarette industry continues to operate without federal oversight, consumers are left to buy products for which there are no manufacturing standards, no content disclosures and no guidelines for safe use. In short, as we can see from this research, consumers have no idea what they are really ingesting and the risks they take in having these products in their homes. We urge the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes without delay and encourage cities and states across America to include e-cigarettes in smoke-free legislation and ban sales to minors. These steps – not the unfettered expansion of a profit-driven industry – will be good for everyone’s health, especially the health of our children.”

Risks associated with nicotine and e-cigarettes

Researchers find that many e-cigarettes contain toxins, contaminants and carcinogens completely at odds with e-cigarettes’ portrayal as a purer, healthier alternative. They also find considerable variations in the amount of nicotine delivered by different brands. None of this information is made available to consumer so they really don’t know what they are ingesting.

Nicotine – a highly addictive drug – can have powerful negative effects on the cardiovascular system, including causing high blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms. In women, nicotine reduces estrogen levels and has been linked to early menopause. Prenatal exposure has been linked in epidemiological studies to obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure in children. To date, there has been little research on the emission of fine and ultrafine inhalable liquid particles, nicotine and cancer-causing substances into indoor air, so we cannot exclude the risk of adverse health effects generated by second-hand exposure to e-cigarettes.

A CDC study showed that e-cigarette experimentation and recent use doubled among US middle and high school students during 2011–2012, resulting in an estimated 1.78 million students having ever used e-cigarettes as of 2012. Public health experts are concerned that slick product design and fruity flavors is driving the uptake of e-cigarettes and related devices among young people and non-smokers. The increase in young vapers is particularly concerning; in addition to the above health risks, there is higher potential for negative impact of nicotine on adolescent brain development, as well as the risk for life-long nicotine addiction.

Evidence of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid is contradictory at best. A study in the American Journal of Public Health showed that those who incorporated e-cigarettes into a quit-smoking attempt were less likely to succeed after six months. In fact, unrestricted e-cigarettes on the market may end up preventing persons from seeking proven methods of quitting – including cold turkey. Public health experts also are concerned that e-cigarettes will undo decades of progress in public health by re-normalizing smoking in public and act as a gateway to cigarette use among youth.