A new government study of e-cigarettes provides new ammunition for lawmakers looking to impose tighter regulations on the smoke-free product.
In a report published today, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine rose dramatically over the last four years, from one per month to 215 per month. More than half of the calls or 51.1 percent involved children 5 years and under; 42 percent involved people 20 years and older.
Calls involving conventional cigarettes over the period (September 2010 to February 2014) did not increase.
"This report raises another red flag about e-cigarettes, the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can be hazardous," said CDC director Tom Frieden, who is a medical doctor.
Children are particularly vulnerable the CDC, found. "E-cigarette liquids as currently sold are a threat to small children because they are not required to be childproof, and they come in candy and fruit flavors that are appealing to children," said Frieden.
Several lawmakers in both chambers have introduced legislation that that would restrict the marketing of e-cigarettes and prohibit the targeting children and teens.
"The alarming increase in poisoning cases involving e-cigarettes should serve as a wake-up call to the American people that it is time for the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration to regulate these products to help prevent more tragedies. I am particularly concerned that many e-cigarettes are packaged in bright colors and flavored to smell like candy or fruit, which puts children at higher risk of poisoning," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Boxer is one of six Democrats in the Senate that introduced a bill to prohibit the marketing of e-cigarettes to children and teens and give the FTC the authority to police the ban. The House version was introduced last week by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) and five other Dems. The bill has picked up endorsements from the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Campaign for Tobacco-Free kids.
The Food and Drug Administration has yet to make a decision about how to classify e-cigarettes and whether they should be regulated like conventional cigarettes under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Act. A handful of states and cities, like New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, have banned e-cigarettes in public places.
In a letter last month to President Obama, the Democratic Senators urged the Administration to review and finalize regulations for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.