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Banning electronic cigarettes a good first step

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By Joan Martin

Anderson County Consumer and Family Sciences agent

Electronic cigarettes have been in the news recently because Senate Bill 109 passed.  This law bans the sale of all types of electronic cigarettes to minors regardless of the device using nicotine or not. There is a strong correlation between the use of electronic cigarettes and smoking traditional cigarettes. Passing this bill was an important step in reducing the Kentucky smoking rate by 10 percent over the next 10 years.

            Kentucky county health rankings made public in April 2014 indicate that Anderson County fared better than most on adult smoking rates.  According to the report, 19 percent of adults in Anderson County are smokers.  The average adult smoking rate in Kentucky is 26 percent. Nationwide about 14 percent of adults smoke.

            Electronic cigarettes were developed to address longstanding concerns about second hand smoke and provide a way for smokers to enjoy smoking in places that ban tobacco products. However, an unanticipated effect has been the increased calls to poison control centers.

            The e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine, flavorings (such as fruit, mint and chocolate) and other chemicals via an inhaled aerosol. No therapeutic claims can be made by the manufacturers.  E-cigarettes are not currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration but that may change soon.

            There is a developing concern about the potential of e-cigarettes to cause acute nicotine toxicity.  Calls to poison control centers were analyzed from September 2010 through February 2014.  Calls included concerns about the e-cigarette device itself or the nicotine liquid, which typically is contained in a cartridge that the user inserts into the e-cigarette. For the purpose of this review, any poison control center calls involving traditional tobacco cigarettes didn’t include exposure to cigarette butts.

            During the study review period, there were 2,405 e-cigarette calls to poison control centers and 16,248 cigarette exposure calls.  The incident rate ranged from 1 call in September 2010 regarding e-cigarettes to 215 calls in February 2014.  Cigarette exposure calls ranged from 301 to 512 calls per month and were more frequent in the summer months. 

E-cigarette exposure calls to poison centers represented 41.7% of the combined total of e-cigarette/tobacco cigarette calls in February 2014.  Cigarette exposures calls primarily involved children 5 years old and younger (94.9 percent).  E-cigarette exposures were most common among the same age groups (0-5 years old – 51.1%) and youth under age 20 (42 percent).  E-cigarettes were more likely to involve inhalation, eye exposure, and skin exposure whereas tobacco cigarettes were almost always reported as ingestions (97.8 percent vs. 68.9 percent for e-cigarettes.)

            An analysis of the 9,839 calls to poison control centers regarding adverse health effects of both electronic cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes, revealed that e-cigarette exposure calls were more likely to report adverse health effects (57.8 percent vs. 36 percent).  The most common adverse health effects in e-cigarettes were vomiting, nausea and eye irritation. 

            The bottom line is users of electronic cigarettes need to be aware that e-cigarettes have the potential to cause acute adverse health effects and represent an emerging public health concern.  Keep e-cigarettes away from children.

Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.  University of Kentucky, Kentucky State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Kentucky Counties, Cooperating.  Disabilities accommodated with prior notification.