Consultant likens e-cigs to methadone

A hospital consultant has likened e-cigarettes to heroin substitute methadone as he revealed two children have presented at an emergency department having been poisoned by liquid nicotine.

Liquid nicotine or e-liquid, it is believed, is absorbed far quicker than nicotine in tobacco and can poison somebody by touch alone.

Chris Luke, based at Cork’s Mercy University Hospital, said the e-cigarette craze was “worryingly reminiscent” of the mushrooming of head shops four years ago.

Last year, there were 1,300 cases in the US of poisoning by ‘e-liquid’ — a 300% increase on the year previous. The American National Poison Data System has said it expects the numbers to double this year. It’s been suggested that children can be attracted to the containers as the liquid is brightly coloured and often sweet smelling.

“Some of us in emergency healthcare would take issue with Professor John Britton of the Royal College of Physicians in the UK who was quoted recently as saying that nicotine in itself is not a particularly hazardous drug,” Dr Luke said.

“Some American toxicologists, in fact, describe it as one of the most potent naturally occurring toxins, at the very least likely to provoke acute illness and vomiting in the young children who are most at risk of sampling fruit-flavoured e-liquids lying around in ‘vapers’ houses,” he said.

“While accepting that the ‘jury is out’ in strictly scientific terms in relation to e-cigarettes, and conceding that smokers may very well benefit from a reduction in real smoking, I would remind people of the alleged attractions of methadone, mephedrone and zopiclone, all of which have been recently championed as ‘healthier’ substitutes for legal and illegal drugs of addiction, with often tragic consequences.”

Declan Connolly of Galway-based said that while e-liquid should not be left in the reach of children, most doses are not fatal and in the most common concentrations will, at worst, cause vomiting.

“One person has died from drinking e-liquid. I won’t deny it is a poison but most people are using liquids with less than 1.6% of nicotine, whereas it’s far more dangerous up around 2.4%,” he said.

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