Alarming new evidence shows a tripling in the number of children and babies poisoned by vapes in just one year, while the amount of teenagers has quadrupled.
The horrifying trend has spurred a doctor who specialises in toxin research to accuse vape makers of ‘marketing to children’.
In NSW the number of toddlers (aged 1 to 4) poisoned by the devices jumped from 42 in 2020 to 127 in 2021, while children (aged 5-14) went from 9 to 27 in the same period.
More disturbing was the number of babies poisoned, which jumped from 7 to 17.
NSW Poisons Information Centre doctor Claire Turner says there has been a huge jump in children being reported poisoned by vapes and their refill mixtures
Teenagers (aged between 15 and 19) poisoned by vapes, meanwhile, jumped from eight to 25.
The figures come from the NSW poisons hotline but the Victorian equivalent also reported a large jump in children being poisoned by vapes.
In 2021 Victoria has 51 such cases compared to 32 cases in 2020.
Of the 2021 poisonings, eight were babies.
Children who watch adults vaping are very likely to mimic their actions, a doctor has warned
The Queensland Poisons Information Centre has fielded almost five times as many calls involving children under five years of age being exposed to e-cigarette and vaping devices this year as compared to last.
Out of the 88 poisonings so far this year, compared with only 15 in 2020, 20 needed hospital care.
‘We’re seeing an increase in calls and particularly children under five,’ Dr Claire Turner, Public Health Medicine registrar at the NSW Poisons Information Centre, told Daily Mail Australia.
‘The increase in vape poisonings is in a category of its own. It’s definitely increasing at a large rate [and rising] steadily over the last five years.
‘Most common calls are small accidental exposures in the young kids – they are just getting a hold of a vape device and sucking on it which activates the vape.
A table setting out the number of vape poisonings reported to the NSW hotline over the past two years
‘They are getting some of the chemicals and then they will often have a coughing fit, sometimes vomiting.
‘It’s also the liquid, the refillable liquid for some of the e-cigarettes.’
In May 2018 Australia recorded its first and so far only fatal incident of a child ingesting a fatal amount of vape substances.
Baby J, whose name has been withheld, was 18 months old when he got hold of the substance his mother was mixing with vape juice for an e-cigarette.
A doctor has accused vape makers of marketing their products toward children with bright colours
After being momentarily distracted putting bottles of the vape juice away, Baby J’s mother was horrified to see him with the open bottle of the mixture in his mouth.
Despite immediately washing out the infant’s mouth and calling emergency services, Baby J passed away in Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital on June 10, 2018.
The Coroner who investigated the case called for a greater awareness of the dangers of vapes for children.
Dr Turner said the NSW poisons hotline had been fortunate not to have recorded a similar incident.
‘Luckily we haven’t had any (young children) that have drunk a substantial amount. They are pretty dangerous but most children had a very small amount,’ she said.
‘With the younger kids if they suck on it they will cough and cough and won’t continue to do it, so that’s a good stopping point.
‘If they have an exposure to a large amount of nicotine it can be very serious.
As the popularity of vapes with teenagers skyrockets there are concerns many are buying products with unknown ingredients and with little-known side effects
‘There would be nausea and vomiting, then there’s the high heart rate, hypertension and then they can get seizures.’
Dr Masters said children might be mistaking vapes or the refill mixtures for sweet treats.
‘The vapes can look very appealing to children,’ she said.
‘The way they are marketed as something that’s tasty and comes in a whole range of nice-smelling flavours – that seems a bit chilling.
‘They are definitely appealing to kids.’
Children were also likely to pick up vapes or refill mixtures just because they had observed adults or older siblings doing so.
The number of teenagers reported to a NSW hotline for vape poisoning has quadrupled in the space of a year
‘Children mimic adult behaviour as part of their normal development, so our advice is don’t vape in front of your children as that demonstrates how the vapes are used,’ Dr Turner said.
Vapes with nicotine can only legally be bought with a doctor’s prescription in Australia but there is a huge trade in e-cigarettes, many containing nicotine, being sold ‘under the counter’ at convenience stores or being ordered from overseas.
One teaspoon of liquid nicotine can cause irreversible damage or death to a child.
A single e-cigarette contains 0.7ml of nicotine and is the equivalent of inhaling one pack of cigarettes, or 200 puffs.
Dr Turner said the dangers of young people becoming addicted to nicotine were very real but perhaps even more worrying is that many vapes did not list their ingredients.
‘The toxicity is very well known for nicotine but some of the other chemicals in there, the long-term effects aren’t known yet,’ she said.
‘They often contain heavy metals including lead, mercury and arsenic.
‘There is a huge range of different chemicals in the different vapes. They have a whole range of effects.
Children and vapes – how to stay safe and what to do if poisoning occurs
Adults and older siblings should always know where there vapes are in a household of young children.
Children mimic adults so it is best not to vape in front of them.
Vapes and refills should be stored out of the reach of children in containers with a child resistant lid.
Don’t decant refill mixtures into any other containers that don’t have child resistant lids or that aren’t labelled.
How to know if your child is poisoned
Common symptoms are coughing or a severe coughing fit and vomiting.
Nicotine poisoning can induce sweating or a racing heart and in severe cases, seizures.
What to do if you suspect poisoning
First make sure you take the toxin away, however usually the kids will do that themselves after they puffed or drank it.
If you have any concerns that your child been exposed, no matter how small the concerns are, call the poisons information centre on 13 11 26.
In the case of severe poisoning or if you have concerns your child is acutely unwell, call triple-0.
The person you call might advise to watch and wait at home or go into the hospital.
If paramedics are called they might also treat at the scene rather than go to hospital, depending on the severity of the case.
‘A lot of the products aren’t well labelled so you don’t actually know exactly what’s in them.
‘A lot of the effects from the ingredients are not necessarily well known yet and a lot of the long-term effects are not well known.’
Dr Turner said the unknown long-term effects were a potential concern for vape users of all ages.
‘That’s why there’s been a bit of a push recently with the NSW Heath campaign and other things to get the information out there,’ she said.
Her advice to any household where vapers mix with young children is to be keenly aware of the risk.
‘It’s not necessarily front of mind for everyone and I guess they’re becoming more and more common so they are just more accessible,’ Dr Turner said.
‘Any vaping products, particularly the refillable liquids as well, should always be stored safely out of reach of children.
‘Any adults and especially parents around kids should always be really aware of where your vapes are and that they are out of reach of young kids.’
Vapes with nicotine are only legally available with a doctor’s prescription in Australia but many e-cigarettes containing the substance are being sold ‘under the counter’ at convenience stores or brought in from overseas
Although most children will quickly stop or spit out vape substances the severity of poisoning depends on a number of factors, Dr Turner said.
‘It depends on how involved the child is, how big they are, what sort of concentrations of liquid or nicotine they have gotten into their mouth,’ she said.
‘We don’t have any home remedies at the moment to put into place, so our advice is to call the poisons information centre right away if you have any concern they have been exposed.’
The national number for the poisons information centre is 13 11 26.
Calls will normally be put through to the caller’s state hotline centre, which are staffed 24/7 with trained receptionists and consulting doctors.
If a child exhibits severe symptoms of poisoning its recommended to call the emergency services hotline triple-0.