Rhonda Patt

Ask the pediatrician: Are e-cigarettes safe around kids?

A nicotine cartridge for an e-cigarette contains up to 20mg of nicotine, which exceeds the estimated fatal dose of nicotine for a child.
A nicotine cartridge for an e-cigarette contains up to 20mg of nicotine, which exceeds the estimated fatal dose of nicotine for a child. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q. My mother-in-law smokes e-cigarettes. She does not think it is dangerous to smoke these around our new baby. Is second-hand smoke from an e-cigarette dangerous?

A. An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is a device that shares a similar appearance to a traditional cigarette but works by creating a mist that contains nicotine that is inhaled. Currently, many e-cigarette manufacturers are marketing these as a “safe” alternative to cigarettes; however, the public should be aware that this assertion is presumptuous at best.

E-cigarettes do not smell like tobacco; however, no one knows the effects of their second-hand smoke. In 2009, the FDA tested e-cigarettes from two leading manufacturers and found detectable levels of toxins and carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) including diethylene glycol and nitrosamines in their cartridges.

Another concern about e-cigarettes is the risk of nicotine ingestion. A nicotine cartridge for an e-cigarette contains up to 20mg of nicotine. This exceeds the estimated fatal dose of nicotine for a child. Refill bottles for the cartridges are available and contain up to 7 grams of nicotine. Ingestion of four drops of refill solution could be fatal for a child.

Since their introduction to the market in 2007, e-cigarettes have gained popularity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, twice as many teens tried e-cigarettes in 2012 when compared to 2011. Electronic cigarettes are sold in flavors such as gummy bears and vanilla.

Consumers need to be aware of the marketing strategies that are being used to convince them e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking. But the only safe alternative smoking is to quit smoking.

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