Lawmakers Want Safety Caps on Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes

Washington, DC - The stuff called Cotton Candy, Fruity Loops and even Gummi Bear. But this particular stuff is not a pack of bubble gum or bag of fruit chews you might see as you check out at your local convenience store.

It is, in fact, a highly toxic and still-unregulated form of concentrated liquid nicotine for use in vapor devices including so-called e-cigarettes. And it’s hitting the marketplace nationwide in easy-to-open vials and small eye-dropper bottles available for purchase in stores and online.

“There’s enough nicotine in some of these bottles to kill small children, and even if a small amount spilled on a child’s skin it could make them extremely ill,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee who’s filing legislation to child-proof the containers.

Ingestion of liquid nicotine can cause vomiting and seizures and even death, a leading pediatricians’ group says. And a recent New York Times report stated that a teaspoon of highly diluted liquid nicotine, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, could kill a small child.

It’s already contributing to a surge in the number of reports of liquid-nicotine-related child poisonings.

Nationwide, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there have been more than 1,500 calls regarding liquid nicotine exposure so far this year – a pace that will double last year’s total. And the 1,351 cases reported last year represented a 300 percent increase from 2012.

In response, a group of lawmakers Thursday filed legislation aimed at child-proofing the small bottles. The legislation is a simple but significant step toward assuring children’s and product safety, the lawmakers said.

Specifically, the Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act of 2014 would direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue rules requiring safer, child-resistant packaging for any liquid nicotine sold to consumers. The bill already has drawn a number of cosponsors and here’s what some of them said:

And Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said, “Our important child-proofing bill deals with the alarming increase in poisonings involving e-cigarette liquids, since children are drawn to brightly colored packaging and flavorings that smell like candy.”

“We require child-proof packaging for items like Tylenol, Drano, and mouthwash, but not liquid nicotine,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), a former state attorney general. “I have been working with industry on solutions, and was hopeful they would step up on their own. However, we are seeing more and more children poisoned and even sent to the emergency room as a result of liquid nicotine. We can’t afford to keep waiting. Requiring child-proof packaging for these products is a common-sense solution to keep our kids safe.”

Said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who is the number-two ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate, “There is a word for the toxic candy-flavored liquids found in electronic cigarettes: poison. Protecting our nation’s children from exposure to poison is basic common sense, especially when it can have dangerous and fatal consequences like liquid nicotine.”

Added Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of HELP, or the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, “A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a recent, alarming spike in e-cigarette poisonings - more than half of which affected young children. This comes as no surprise given the growing popularity of e-cigarettes and candy- and fruit-flavored liquid nicotine that is enticing to children. We have child-proof containers on everything from vitamins to ibuprofen, so it’s just plain common sense that we place child-proof mechanisms on highly-toxic and poisonous liquid nicotine. Robust FDA regulation of e-cigarettes is absolutely essential to protect our children from these products. In the meantime, however, this simple step would give peace of mind to parents and help protect our children from accidental ingestion or a fatal poisoning.”

The bill’s other initial co-sponsors are: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

“For any parent, the process of child-proofing your home to make sure your kids don’t get into anything that can harm them can be a big project," said Bennet, who is a member of the HELP Committee. “Thankfully, many household products are manufactured with child-resistant packaging to help make things a little easier.

"With the popularity of e-cigarettes on the rise, this commonsense bill will ensure that liquid nicotine is among the products sold with child-resistant packaging to keep our kids safe,” he said.

Besides the lawmakers, others, including the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, are advocating for quick passage of the legislation.

“Liquid nicotine containers are not required to have the same child-proof packaging standards that pediatricians and parents depend on to keep children safe from products like household cleaners and prescription drugs,” said Dr. James M. Perrin, head of the pediatrics group.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer to protect children from potentially deadly nicotine ingestions,” Perrin said.  

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