The Truth About E-Cigarettes: A Potential Poisoning Hazard

Blog Post created by Thomas3.20.2010 on Jul 18, 2013

Recently the Illinois Poison Center (IPC) received a callfrom a parent whose toddler ingested some contents of an e-cigarette cartridge containing nicotine.  We could find very little information addressing the accidental poisoning potential of these products in children, so we thought we’d share some information with you based on our findings. 

Electronic cigarettes or “e-cigarettes” are battery-powered tubes that heat liquid nicotine stored in a cartridge, into an inhalable vapor that looks and tastes like smoke from a regular cigarette.  These products are touted to be “safer” alternatives to cigarette smoking.  Often imported from other countries and distributed by multiple e-cigarette companies, they are marketed under various proprietary names.  These products are not currently regulated by the FDA, and their long-term safety has not been demonstrated.  To add to the confusion, the amount of nicotine per cartridge varies widely, as well as the amount of nicotine delivered per “puff.”  Additionally, some of these products have flavoring agents and other possibly harmful chemicals. 

So, what could possibly be so bad about children getting a hold of nicotine-containing products? 

Based on our findings, these e-cigarette cartridges may contain quantities of nicotine ranging from zero to almost 7 milligrams (mg).  Toxicology references state a dose as low as 1 mg of nicotine may cause symptoms in a small child.  16 mg of nicotine represents a potentially fatal dose of nicotine for a 25 pound child. 

Nicotine, even at low doses, is quite dangerous to small children.  A few milligrams of pure nicotine may cause symptoms of:


  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhea,
  • drowsiness,
  • weakness,
  • irritability,
  • sweating,
  • increased heart rate
  •  and blood pressure. 

Higher doses may lead to coma, seizures, depressed respiration, irregular heartbeat, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and even death.  

Believe it or not, nicotine sulfate is an EPA-registered insect killer, which was used several decades ago and carried a DANGER” warning.  However, it is no longer widely used.  Think about that the next time you light up or take a puff from your e-cigarette. 

As a poisoning hazard to children, e-cigarettes may not be any safer than other natural or synthetic nicotine products(i.e., cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobaccos, nicotine chewing gums, lozenges, skin patches, etc.).  Like other potentially hazardous substances in the home, all smoking materials and smoking alternative products should be out of reach of young children.  We urge all parents and caretakers of small children to call the IPC at 1-800-222-1222 immediately whenever the suspicion arises that a child may have consumed any amount of such products.