A recent study, completed by researchers at Harvard, showed that diacetyl, a flavoring chemical linked to severe lung disease, was found in over 75 percent of e-cigarettes sold in the United States. This finding brings into question the safety of e-cigarettes compared to traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Researchers tested the emissions from 51 types of flavored e-cigarettes for the presence of diacetyl and two related flavoring compounds, which may also pose a respiratory hazard. At least one of the three chemicals was detected in 47 of the 51 flavors tested. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has previously warned workers about the dangers of inhaling the chemical, but this study was the first of its kind to link the chemical to e-cigarettes. There are no regulations in the United States that mandate labeling requirements for e-cigarettes.

It is important to note that e-cigarette use alone has not been proven to cause negative health outcomes. Although they may help an individual stop smoking traditional cigarettes, long-term safety is still unknown.

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Rising Popularity of e-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes first arrived in the U.S. in 2007 and overall use has steadily increased over the years. From 2010 to 2013, the use more than doubled among U.S. adults, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is estimated that more than 20 million U.S. adults have tried them at least once.

The CDC also reports that e-cigarette use in young people has now surpassed traditional cigarettes. A 2014 CDC survey of 22,000 middle and high school students found that while overall tobacco usage was roughly consistent with recent years, e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among this group. Historically, traditional cigarettes held the top spot on the list. Hookah was the second most common product used by these students.

Other Concerns With e-Cigarettes: Nicotine Toxicity

Because e-cigarettes are filled with concentrated nicotine-containing solutions, accidental ingestion of this solution, especially in children, may pose a dangerous risk of toxicity. The toxicity is dose-dependent; as more of the substance is ingested, the associated side effects may be more severe. Side effects can occur soon after ingestion and include:

Symptoms may progressively worsen and lead to coma, seizures, paralysis and even death.

At the Pittsburgh Poison Center (PPC), the number of reported cases of e-cigarette-related nicotine toxicity has risen steadily over the years; starting from 1 case in 2009 to over a hundred cases in 2014. These numbers are similar to the trend seen nationwide.

A potentially lethal dose for a child weighing 22 pounds can be as little as 10 milligrams, which is less than the amount of nicotine the majority of e-cigarettes contain. Therefore, it is important to note that relatively small volumes of e-cigarette solution can be deadly in children, and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible if ingestion is suspected. It is important to keep e-cigarettes out of the reach of young children.

Your local poison center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to answer any questions you might have concerning this, or any other, exposure. To be routed to your regional poison center, call 1-800-222-1222.

Also, follow Mr. Yuk and the Pittsburgh Poison Center on Facebook and Twitter for more poison prevention information.

About Pittsburgh Poison Center

The Pittsburgh Poison Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide poison information and respond to emergencies. You can call 1-800-222-1222, 24 hours a day, for emergency help. We answer more than 100,000 calls each year from across Pennsylvania, at no cost to callers. Our staff of nurse specialists has extensive training in clinical toxicology. We also created a network of more than 70 hospitals throughout the state for consultation and follow-up treatment of poison exposure. For nearly 50 years, our symbol Mr. Yuk has helped to educate children and adults about poison prevention and poison center awareness. All stickers of Mr. Yuk carry important poison control phone numbers.