Usually in small bottles with colorful labels and often highly sweetened with candy, fruit and other flavorings, nicotine-containing vaping liquid can masquerade as a tasty treat for children exploring as they learn to crawl, stand and walk. For these little ones, swallowing a teaspoon of liquid with a high nicotine concentration can be fatal, said Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Vaping, under increased scrutiny for its potential to addict adolescents and connection to severe lung injuries, offers another potentially serious risk to a different age group — toddlers.
The vaping liquid, usually in small bottles with colorful labels and often highly sweetened with candy, fruit and other flavorings but containing nicotine, can masquerade as a tasty treat for children exploring as they learn to crawl, stand and walk.
For these little ones, swallowing a teaspoon of liquid with a high nicotine concentration can be fatal, said Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, includes this somber information in her talking points as a warning to Ohioans. She has rallied against flavorings that appeal to adolescents for vaping and toddlers for potential ingesting.
“For young kids, it can be toxic and deadly,” she said. ”… And unfortunately because of its flavorings of candy, now you’ve got a kid with maybe a bottle. Some have safety caps, but if it’s open or just laying around the house, a toddler can get into it.”
From Jan. 1 to Oct. 20, 113 cases of children 5 and younger poisoned by ingesting vaping liquid were reported to the poison centers in Ohio, compared with 81 in all of 2018 and 66 in 2017, Spiller said.
The 113 cases this year are on top of 44 cases, also through Oct. 20, of vaping-induced lung injury from inhalation by children 5 and younger.
Parents need to be aware, Spiller said, because an adult taking one puff of vaporized liquid at a time is much different from a toddler drinking that liquid.
“We really want to warn parents because, honestly, they don’t view it as bad as it is because it’s not bad for them,” he said.
Nicotine was used as a pesticide for years, Spiller said, and is a nerve toxin in concentrated form.
Swallowing vaping liquids can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, seizures and a dangerously low heart rate.
“It’s as dangerous as if you had a bottle of pesticide,” he said. “You would put that pesticide up. You certainly wouldn’t leave a bottle of pesticide out for a child.”
Spiller said he is aware of three children in the United States, all younger than 6, who died from modern-day nicotine poisoning over the past several years. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the first toddler to die was a 1-year-old in December 2014.
No children have died in Ohio, Spiller said.
Nationwide in 2017, nearly 1,700 children 5 and younger were poisoned by nicotine-containing e-cigarette devices or liquids, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System. That compares with nearly 2,100 in 2016 and nearly 2,600 in 2015.
Numbers of poisonings also dropped in the state in 2017, when there were hopes for a downward trend after 94 such poisonings in 2016 and 92 in 2015.
The numbers had risen prior to regulations requiring child-resistant caps, Spiller said, and it is unclear why they took a jump.
“We’re not sure why we’re getting this bounce-back. We saw a decrease. We were happy, we were hoping it was going to continue to decrease but it hasn’t,” Spiller said.
Depending on the amount of liquid ingested, a child might have stayed home under monitoring, been taken to the emergency room or been hospitalized.
JoAnne Viviano/The Columbus Dispatch