Children Are Being Poisoned by Marijuana and E-Liquid*

*Though Not as Many as the Number of Children Poisoned by Cosmetics, Household Cleaning Products and Painkillers.

In the past couple years we’ve seen a growth of e-cig and cannabis edible usage and a corresponding increase in corporate media scare stories warning us of the dangerous epidemics sweeping the country: children accidentally ingesting cannabis edibles and nicotine liquid. Though such incidents are a real concern that the public needs to be aware of and take steps to prevent, actual statistics show that the problem is not as alarming as it’s often made out to be when examined in relation to other products that harm children when ingested.

With the advent of legal recreational cannabis in Colorado, data from the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center (RMPDC) is often cited by news media for stories about the dangers of marijuana edibles. In 2014 the RMPDC received 151 calls about marijuana exposure, 45 of which involved children 8 years old and younger. Of course this should cause concern, but not as much concern as for the 2,690 calls to the RMPDC about children 5 years old and under poisoned by cosmetics, 1,495 calls for household cleaning product ingestion, and 739 calls regarding vitamins in 2011 (especially in light of the fact that no one has ever died of a cannabis overdose). It’s also worth mentioning that while some studies have shown that repeated cannabis use may impact adolescents’ developing brains (a claim that is still being debated), there is no conclusive evidence of its long-term negative effects on young people.

Similarly, the rapid rise in usage of e-cigs has triggered a flood of similarly-themed scare pieces which usually fall into the categories of “more teens using e-cigs” and “more toddlers getting poisoned by e-liquids”. Like with cannabis edibles this is of course cause for concern but since e-cigs are a relatively new product, the increase in numbers would initially seem more dramatic.

Because nicotine has been shown to have a negative impact on adolescent brain development it definitely should not be sold to or marketed towards teenagers, but what such news stories leave out (or report as a completely separate issue) is correlated data showing a decrease in teen smoking.

Smoking-and-Vaping-by-Teenagers

As much as we want all teenagers to to be completely nicotine-free, there will always be some who experiment (especially those with backgrounds of physical or emotional abuse). Because e-cigs have been proven to contain less harmful toxins than tobacco cigarettes and e-cig users can choose to downgrade the level of nicotine contained in the e-liquids used (or switch to e-liquids containing zero nicotine or substances less harmful than nicotine), perhaps e-cigs could more accurately be viewed as “anti-gateway” Harm Reduction devices?

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), there were 1,543 e-cig and e-liquid exposures reported to Poison Centers in 2013. While unfortunate and preventable if more people took precautions with the handling and storage of e-cigs and e-liquids, the number of cases weren’t even close to the top exposures called in to Poison Centers. To put them in context, in the 2013 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System, the following were the top 10 substance categories most frequently involved in human exposures:

  1. Analgesics 298,633
  2. Cosmetics 199,838
  3. Cleaning substances 196,183
  4. Sedatives/Hypnotics/Antipsychotics 153,398
  5. Antidepressants 109,110
  6. Foreign bodies/Toys/Misc. 103,737
  7. Cardiovascular Drugs 101,544
  8. Antihistamines 99,176
  9. Topical preparations 89,287
  10. Pesticides 85,033

The report also included the top 10 substance categories most frequently involved in pediatric (≤5 years) exposures:

  1. Cosmetics 151,154
  2. Cleaning substances 113,872
  3. Analgesics 106,639
  4. Foreign bodies/Toys/Misc. 75,184
  5. Topical preparations 66,893
  6. Vitamins 47,816
  7. Antihistamines 45,250
  8. Pesticides 35,254
  9. Plants 29,346
  10. Gastrointestinal preparations 28,481

Of course these figures do not diminish the seriousness and danger of children being exposed to e-liquids, but it does highlight the often selective nature of news reportage, the inability of regulatory measures to completely prevent such incidents, and the overall importance of personal responsibility and vigilant parenting. While news media does have an important role to play in educating the public about health issues, it’s important to understand that what is reported and the way it is reported is never completely without bias.

As members of the e-cig industry, it should be clear Cascadia Vape has an interest in defending the e-cig industry. Often less clear is the interest of corporate news media in releasing particular scare stories to increase viewership. Higher ratings and “correct” messaging ensure support from corporate sponsors who may  also influence which stories are covered and/or how they’re reported. For example, would it not be in the interest of news networks to discourage the use of products which directly compete with smoking cessation products such as nicotine patches and gum produced by large pharmaceutical companies which spend large sums of money to advertise on the networks (and/or produces PR material which attacks the competition)? In other words, keep in mind that corporate media has more self-interested motives besides public safety. Now more than ever we need to question what is reported and think critically about how facts are presented.

 

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