Reports of injuries and other harm from e-cigarettes – burns, nicotine toxicity, respiratory and cardiovascular problems – have risen in the past year as the devices become more popular, recent data show.
More than 50 e-cigarette complaints were filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between March 2013 and March 2014, Reuters reports. This about equals combined numbers for the previous five years.
In 2011, about 21 percent of adult smokers had used e-cigarettes, according to federal data, more than double the rate in 2010. David Ashley, director of the office of science at the FDA’s tobacco division, said the increase in e-cigarette complaints is significant, especially when considered in conjunction with a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing an increase in calls to poison control centers related to e-cigarettes, Reuters reports.
E-cigarettes – battery-powered cartridges filled with a nicotine liquid that create an inhalable mist when heated – allow users to inhale nicotine without the damaging tar produced by conventional cigarettes. But little is known about the long-term health effects of the products, developed in China and brought to the U.S. market in 2007, according to Reuters. Some industry analysts project that these devices may outpace traditional cigarettes, now an $85-billion-a-year industry, within the next decade.
Complaints to the FDA included breathing difficulties, headaches, cough, dizziness, sore throat, nose bleeds, chest pain or other cardiovascular problems, and allergic reactions such as itchiness and swelling of the lips, Reuters reports. Calls to poison control centers involve the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes, which can be swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin, and as little as a teaspoon can be fatal to a small child, according to The New York Times. The liquid comes in candy and fruit flavors appealing to children, and manufacturers are not required to sell it in childproof bottles.
Reuters reports one complaint to the FDA from a restaurant patron at a table next to someone smoking an e-cigarette. “The vapor cloud was big enough to come over my table,” the person wrote and, “I got dizzy, my eyes began to water and I ended up taking my food to go because of the intense heartbeat I began to develop.” Another person wrote to the agency about respiratory symptoms she and her 4-year-old son developed when her husband began smoking e-cigarettes.
There is pressure for the FDA to begin regulating e-cigarettes and other “vaping” devices, which could reshape the $2-billion-a-year industry, Reuters writes.