Generally speaking, we’ve been a little skeptical of the rush to ban e-cigarettes outright in a time when relatively little is known about them (and anecdotally, they may be helping people to lay off regular smoking), but over the weekend the Times reported on some of the dangers of the liquid nicotine that goes into them (headline: “Selling a Poison by the Barrel”), and what they turned up is pretty frightening.
The main problem surrounds the liquid nicotine that goes into most e-cigarettes (and is often sold in separate vials with different flavors, etc.), a “powerful neurotoxin” that can be incredibly dangerous even to the touch: “Tiny amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal. A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child,” writes the Times. The article cites one specific case in which a woman reported cardiac problems after her e-cigarette broke in her bed, exposing the “e-liquids” to her skin.
Like most things, this is all the most dangerous for people who don’t really have any say in their exposure: workers in the factories that make it, and children of e-cigarette smokers. One poison control expert told the paper, “It’s not a matter of if a child will be seriously poisoned or killed, it’s a matter of when,” and medical cases linked to e-cigarette liquids jumped 300 percent between 2012 and 2013. This year, they’re on pace to double. A lethal dose of the higher-concentration liquids is estimated by some experts as “less than a tablespoon,” even for adults.
The FDA has vaguely mentioned plans for regulation, and one executive said, “It’s the wild, wild west right now. Everybody fears F.D.A. regulation, but honestly, we kind of welcome some kind of rules and regulations around this liquid.” So, like we said, pretty terrifying news about something a lot of our friends just have kicking around their apartments. Even with Bloomberg-era crackdowns in place, we expect the FDA to take a typically long time to get its act together on this, so if you’re going to have this stuff around the house, y’know, be careful with it.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.