US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Harkin: New CDC Report Shows Alarming Spike in E-Cigarette Poisonings

More Than Half of E-Cigarette-Related Poisonings Are Among Young Children

Thursday, April 03, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released the following statement today in response to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that poison control centers reported a major spike in calls involving e-cigarette poisonings, increasing from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. Poisoning from e-cigarettes involves the liquid containing nicotine used in the device and can occur three ways: by ingestion, inhalation or absorption through the skin or eyes. More than half of these poisoning calls involved children ages five years old or younger.

“Today’s report is an important reminder that we must do more to protect Americans—particularlychildren—from the harms posed by e-cigarettes, including through liquid nicotine poisoning,” Harkin said. “Now we know that in addition to the risks of addiction and adverse health effects that come from the intended use of e-cigarettes, there is also an alarming risk of accidental poisoning for young children who get their hands on liquid nicotine. Today’s study demonstrates just one more reason why child-oriented marketing of these products – including the use of bright colors and fruit and candy flavors – is so dangerous. It is simply unacceptable that the risk for poisoning from liquid nicotine has increased so dramatically, and these figures are all the more reason why the Food and Drug Administration must assert its authority over these products.”

Findings from the CDC report include:

  • Poison centers reported 2,405 e-cigarette and 16,248 cigarette exposure calls from September 2010 to February 2014.
  • E-cigarette calls as a proportion of total calls involving e-cigarettes and cigarettes rose dramatically – jumping from 0.3 percent in September 2010 to 41.7 percent in February 2014.
  • 51.1 percent of e-cigarette-related poisonings were among young children 0-5 years, while 42 percent of the poison calls involved adults age 20 and older
  • Poisoning from conventional cigarettes is generally due to young children eating them. Poisoning from e-cigarettes involves the liquid containing nicotine used in the device and can occur three ways: by ingestion, inhalation or absorption through the skin or eyes.

Harkin has been a leading advocate for stronger oversight of e-cigarettes. In February, Harkin joined Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) in introducing the Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act which would prohibit the marketing of e-cigarettes to children and teens.  Despite claims from some e-cigarette makers that they do not market their products to children, e-cigarette manufacturers have adopted marketing practices similar to those long used by the tobacco industry to market regular cigarettes to youth – including flavoring their products in candy or fruit flavors that appeal to children, and sponsoring youth-oriented concerts and sporting events in order to market their products to teens.

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