Whether it's because people are trying to quit smoking or like the flavors of watermelon and bubble gum, electronic cigarettes have skyrocketed in popularity. They are battery-powered devices that transform flavored nicotine-liquid into vapor. But as our Katie Gibas reports, poison centers around the country have received a number of calls about children being poisoned by this alternative to traditional smoking.
NATIONWIDE -- Even as hospitals, workplaces and municipalities across the country have started including e-cigarettes in their smoking bans, their popularity hasn't slowed. However, health experts are warning of an emerging danger of the flavored nicotine.
"Kids can break open the capsules that contain the liquid that's vaporized in e-cigarettes and it's flavored with flavors like bubble gum, strawberry and it can be very attractive to children and if a small child gets some of this, ingests it, gets it through their skin, it can definitely give them nicotine poisoning," said Dr. Leslie Kohman, the Upstate Cancer Center Medical Director.
According to the National Poison Data System's annual report for 2012, 438 people, mostly children under the age of five, were poisoned by e-cigarettes nationwide. The report says most of the outcomes were minor, but there was one death.
"Nicotine can create seizures in children. In anyone it can create a very fast heart beat. It can raise the blood pressure. It's a very toxic neurotoxin for the brain and central nervous system," said Kohman.
These poisonings are on the rise. That's why health experts are warning people who use e-cigarettes to lock both the devices and nicotine cartridges away, to keep them out of reach of children. But for health experts and smoking cessation advocates, the concern goes far beyond poisoning.
"The biggest concern in small children is toxin. It's like a poison. But in the adolescents who are beginning to experiment with them as smoking, by far the biggest concern is easy nicotine addiction. It's just as easy to get addicted to nicotine with e-cigarettes as it is with regular cigarettes. And once they're addicted, we know how hard it is to quit" said Kohman.
That's why many doctors are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to start regulating the battery-powered, vapor alternative to traditional smoking.
Health experts say they've seen people switch from traditional to e-cigarettes, but they recommend if you want to kick the habit, to do it with more studied cessation aids. If you need help quitting, you can call the New York State Smokers Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS.
If you believe a child has been poisoned call the poison emergency hotline at 1-800-222-1222.