E-cigarettes

The New York Times Warns That Drinking E-Cigarette Fluid Could Become a Fatal Fad Among Toddlers

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V2 Cigs

A story in today's New York Times sounds the alarm about "a dangerous new form of a powerful stimulant" that "is hitting markets nationwide, for sale by the vial, the gallon and even the barrel." This stimulant is "a powerful neurotoxin," warns business reporter Matt Richtel, and "tiny amounts" of it, "whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal." This dangerous new drug, he explains, is the nicotine contained in e-cigarette fluid, which already has killed…well, so far just one guy who committed suicide by injecting the stuff. But "reports of accidental poisonings, notably among children, are soaring." They increased "300 percent" from 2012 to 2013!

Another way of putting that: The number of accidental poisoning reports related to e-cigarette fluid increased from about 338 in 2012 to 1,351 in 2013. None of these poisonings was fatal, and most (73 percent) were not serious enough to require hospital treatment. In 2012, by comparison, 311,347 poisoning reports involved analgesics, 221,314 involved cosmetics, 193,802 involved cleaning substances, 96,997 involved anthistamines, 88,694 involved pesticides, 68,168 involved vitamins, and 49,374 involved plants. So if "e-liquids pose a significant risk to public health," as Richtel says, the risk posed by common products such as aspirin, window cleaner, and bug spray is gargantuan.

Richtel concedes that the nicotine levels of "most" e-cigarette cartridges "range between 1.8 percent and 2.4 percent [by volume], concentrations that can cause sickness, but rarely death, in children." But he claims "higher concentrations, like 10 percent or even 7.2 percent, are widely available on the Internet." Contrary to Richtel's implication, 10 percent is higher than 7.2 percent. But never mind. How common are e-cigarette cartridges with nicotine concentrations of 7.2 percent or more? Of the 13 "Top E-Cig Brands for 2014" picked by by SmokeFreeVCU.org, none offers cartridges that strong. The strongest fluid sold by 11 of the 13 companies is 2.4 percent or lower. Vapor Zone offers 3.6 percent. White Cloud sells cartridges in a "Double Extra" strength aimed at the heaviest smokers. These cartridges, which the company describes as "the strongest in the industry," contain 5.4 percent nicotine. Richtel cites two examples of 10 percent solutions, both involving large quantities sold by wholesalers, presumably to customers who dilute the fluid before selling it to consumers. 

This exaggeration figures in the article's most memorable warnings. In the third paragraph, Richtel says "a teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child." At the end of the article he quotes Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System, as saying that "one tablespoon could kill an adult." According to a 2013 article in Archives of Toxicology, "a careful estimate suggests that the lower limit causing fatal outcomes [in adults] is 0.5–1 g of ingested nicotine"—i.e., at least 500 milligrams. To get that dose from a tablespoon (15 milliliters), the concentration would have to be 33.3 milligrams per milliliter, or more than 3.3 percent by volume, which is far from typical.

Richtel does raise some legitimate concerns. He worries that bottles of e-cigarette fluid are "kept casually around the house" and that children "may be drawn to their bright colors and fragrant flavorings." Adults obviously should keep e-cigarette liquid, like any other potentially dangerous substance, away from small children. But Richtel seems determined to portray this particular hazard, which by his own account has not caused a single accidental death, as fundamentally scarier than familiar household products that account for many more poisonings. Perhaps that is because e-cigarettes are relatively new. Or perhaps Richtel, like many activists and public health officials, is offended by the superficial resemblance between vaping and smoking, the very thing that makes e-cigarettes such a promising harm reduction tool. Either way, his reaction is not rational. But I suppose putting risk in perspective is more than we can reasonably expect from a newspaper that portrays energy drinks as lethal.

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  1. OK, we have a winner for Fucked-Up Thing of The Year:

    Someone killed themselves by injecting nicotine?!

    1. Yeah, that seems neither quick, reliable, nor easy, which would be the only three things one would need look for in a suicide method.

    2. They were depressed from using “FDA approved” Chantix

  2. Letting little toddlers buttchug ecig liquid is the whole point of this republic. I thought this was america.

  3. Contrary to Richtel’s implication, 10 percent is higher than 7.2 percent.

    Consider the source. I once read an article that imparted on me the horrifying news that the middle class, defined as the middle quintile, is only 20% of the population.

    1. I told you it was shrinking! did you know that 40% of america is BELOW middle class? and that 50% of middle class people earn LESS THAN AVERAGE wages? This is why we need to raise the minimum wage.

      1. Yeah because we need to eliminate jobs, and employability… you fucking retard

  4. I am continually amazed that people actually buy the NYT for any purpose other than to line a birdcage.
    It is a textbook example of how not to practice journalism. New subtitle for them
    “Everything real journalism isn’t!”

  5. And if a 10 year old puts on 6 nicotine patches he’ll die. That’s why they’re illegal.

    1. I learn something here every day.

      I had no idea 10 year olds were illegal. “Nobody needs a kid with 10 birthdays!”, right?

  6. I’m a little surprised by the assertions that kids are particularly likely to drink the stuff.* Wouldn’t nicotine be very bitter, seeing as it’s an alkaloid?

    * Obviously, some kids will eat or drink any damn thing.

    1. Having worn nicotine patches, smoked e-cigarettes and chewed the gum I can assure you that pure nicotine is the single most hideous taste and smell ever. Think rotten fish and acetone.
      If you ever need to induce vomitting, smell a nicotine patch.
      There is no way any normal kid will get anywhere near that sh*t.

      1. haha exactly

    2. I’m a little surprised by the assertions that kids are particularly likely to drink the stuff.* Wouldn’t nicotine be very bitter, seeing as it’s an alkaloid?

      You must not be very elder or have had much time around children. Between the ages of about 6 mo. and 2 yrs. most kids go through a phase where you could put an alka-seltzer in front of them and they would ingest it raw. Once the vomiting and crying stopped, you could place another one right in front of them and they would to the same thing.

      Long before the sense of ‘good/bad smell’ develops and categorizations of ‘good/bad to eat’ start forming, the hands start calibrating and orienting themselves to the mouth.

    3. Also, the stuff is flavored/scented to a *much* higher concentration than the effective dose of nicotine.

      Caffeine is horribly bitter, but most of the bitter in coffee comes from other alkaloids and, even then, one shot of Raspberry flavoring and you could get even the stingiest kids to drink toxic doses.

  7. I’m confused. I thought leftists and environmentalists think the planet is too chock-full of humans. Isn’t anything that will thin the herd, therefore, to be desired?

  8. I knew the angle for the ninnies in regards to e-ciggs would be the nicotine itself. Before long, al the heat-lamps growing dope are going to be growing tobacco as America swaps one black market for another.

  9. I like the headline here. Toddler peer pressure, man, that’s brutal.

  10. “But Richtel seems determined to portray this particular hazard, which by his own account has not caused a single accidental death, as fundamentally scarier than familiar household products that account for many more poisonings. Perhaps that is because e-cigarettes are relatively new. Or perhaps Richtel, like many activists and public health officials, is offended by the superficial resemblance between vaping and smoking …”

    Those two things are just symptoms, not the cause.

    The cause is that Big Tobacco wants to corner the e-cigarette market.

    The big guys (existing tobacco companies have been launching their own brands and taking over the most successful brands in the e-cig niche) sell pre-packaged e-cigarettes with no free liquid involved — the liquid is soaked into padding in a cartridge that’s usually permanently attached to the battery, although sometimes there are re-usable batteries with separate, replaceable sealed cartridges.

    It’s the smaller, newer companies that sell little vials of “e-juice” to be used in vaping rigs that come with refillable tanks.

    So, Big Tobacco is funding “public health research” (read: Propaganda) to justify regulation that will leave their products alone while banning their smaller, poorer, less politically connected competitors’ products.

    1. So, without disputing your basic premise–ie that BTob is trying to undercut PVs/mods and juicers to augment their cigalikes–how does the $$ transfer work visavis Matt Rickel and the NYTimes? Curious…does PM or RJR slip a cash-filled envelope to Matt? Or to the poison control folks in e.g. Minnesota or the AAPCC?

  11. Excellent clarification of an overblown issue. Thank you so much for this!

  12. When I was very young I ate some of my grandfather’s chewing tobacco. At dinner, my older brother pointed out that face turned green, I puked, and that was the end of it. That’s the typical case for these poisonings.

  13. Fatal fad–toddlers drinking flavored e-liquid…the ridiculousness just continues. What about the fatal fad of toddlers drinking Smirnoff’s Root Beer Float and Fluff Marshmellow flavored vodka? Or the fatal fad of toddlers drinking Glade’s Apple Cinnamon air freshner liquid? A small amount of antifreeze can kill a small child, too. My point is that with proper parental supervision, none of these scenarios is likely. Among the retailers and nicotine levels you mention, http://www.vaporzone.com may offer a 3.6 percent nicotine strength for its e-liquid, but I assure you (as an e-cig user and former smoker) the typical user does not use that strength, making your “toddler drinking fad” even more absurd.

  14. More children are sickened and vomiting each year from eating tobacco cigarettes and cigarette BUTTS. I guess the cigarette butts are bubble-gum flavored. The NYT is All the Propaganda that’s Fit to Spew.

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