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Keep e-cigarettes away from kids and pets, health commissioner advises

As debate continues about the safety and effectiveness of electronic cigarettes in helping smokers kick the real things, Erie County’s health commissioner is warning to keep them away from children and pets.

Earlier this month, a 1-year-old boy in Fort Plain, N.Y., died after ingesting liquid nicotine. Local police reported that the toddler swallowed liquid nicotine from a glass bottle that did not have a childproof cap.

The problem is the bottles or vials of liquid nicotine that are a component of e-cigarette devices, which are unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Parents need to be aware that friends or family that they visit with during the holidays may be using e-cigarettes that are filled with liquid nicotine. A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid or e-juice can kill a small child,” Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said this week.

Burstein noted that vials of nicotine can be attractive to children because of their bright colors and fragrant, candy-like flavors, including bubble gum, chocolate and grape.

“These ‘e-liquids’ or ‘e-juices’ are powerful neurotoxins,” Burstein said. “Tiny amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal.”

In 2012, there were 460 calls to centers across the country related to exposure to liquid nicotine and e-cigarettes, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. In 2013, that number jumped to 1,543, with a little more than half of the exposures occurring in children younger than 6.

As of Nov. 30, the number of exposures reported in 2014 stands at 3,638, the poison control center reported.