Increase in e-cigarette poisonings concerns anti-smoking advocate
DULUTH -- The tenfold increase in Minnesota youngsters poisoned by e-cigarette juice last year is alarming, a local anti-smoking advocate said.
“It’s a startling increase and something we should be very concerned about,” said Pat McKone, Duluth-based director of tobacco control programs and policy for the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest.
But it needs to be viewed in context, said Duluth e-cigarette proprietor Daniel Albrecht, citing a much greater number of poisonings from other products.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported Tuesday that 50 teens and children were victims of poisonings related to e-cigs in 2013, compared with five the year before. More than half of those poisoned were younger than 3, and nine of the 50 were teenagers. Another 24 adults were poisoned, a news release said.
The data came from the Minnesota Poison Control System.
More than 200 Minnesota retailers sell the product, which is an electronic device that vaporizes water to supply liquids. The liquids used in e-cigarettes often include flavors such as cotton candy, bubble gum and grape. They may or may not contain nicotine.
Most e-cigarette shops opened in the past year, including two in Duluth.
Albrecht owns one of those, E-cig Empire, with his brother Mike. Most of the e-juice sold is with child-resistant caps, Albrecht said, and what he calls the vaping community is pushing for all of it to be child-safe.
“Everyone in the vaping community is all for keeping it out of the hands of children and minors,” Albrecht said. “And we’re all for that sort of legislation.”
But other products take a greater toll, Albrecht said. Close to 3,200 calls were made to Minnesota Poison Control related to personal-care products last year, he said, and almost 2,400 calls were made regarding household products.
But Albrecht said he opposes eliminating any flavors and argued that those flavors aren’t offered to appeal to children.
“As adults, we all have a right to choose,” he said. “We all had to put up with smoking the traditional analog cigarettes and they all tasted nasty and smelled gross, and now we have an alternative that we could have flavoring in it.”
Minnesota legislators are considering regulating e-cigarettes. Duluth, Cloquet and Hermantown are among Minnesota cities that already have adopted regulatory actions.
Four states — New Jersey, Utah, Arkansas and North Dakota — have passed legislation banning the use of e-cigarettes in public places.
McKone said the latest report goes hand in hand with a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report last year that e-cigarette use had doubled among teenagers from 2011 to 2012.
None of last year’s poisonings resulted in hospitalizations or serious illness, state Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said.
But McKone said the fact that symptoms were alarming enough to cause calls to the Poison Control System speaks for itself.
“I hope we don’t have to have a fatality to say it wasn’t so bad,” McKone said. “I think as a parent myself any time I would be in a position to be calling Poison Control and concerned about my child having ingested something and having symptoms — that’s more than enough cause for us to be concerned.”
But responsible parenting can prevent those problems, Albrecht said.
“I think parents of children need to be much more responsible and keep things out of reach,” he said.
Symptoms of nicotine poisoning may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and/or difficulty breathing, the Health Department news release said. A fatal dose of nicotine for an adult is between 50 and 60 milligrams. E-juice containers may include between 18 and 24 milligrams.
Don Davis contributed to this report.