E-Cigarette and E-Liquid Intoxications Presenting to the Emergency Department

Toxicologic Emergencies present to physicians staffing the Emergency Department of a hospital with regularity.  Over the past decade e-liquid and e-cigarette poisonings have become increasingly common in the ED, particularly amongst children less than 5 years old.  A recent MMWR report from the CDC documents the incidence of this problem.  The article is listed below and was printed by the CDC on June 23, 2023 (72:694)

E-cigarette–associated cases reported to U.S. poison centers have fluctuated during the past decade, increasing during 2010–2014, and then decreasing during 2015–2017 (1). During 2017–2018, the number of e-cigarette exposure cases increased by 25% (from 2,320 to 2,901), and in 2018 nearly two thirds (63.3%) of cases occurred among children aged <5 years (1). To understand the number and characteristics of e-cigarette exposure cases in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analyzed National Poison Data System (NPDS) data* from the most recently available 12-month period (April 1, 2022–March 31, 2023). NPDS is maintained by U.S. poison centers. FDA’s analyses report a further increase in the number of e-cigarette exposure cases, particularly among children aged <5 years.

NPDS is a repository of cases reported to U.S. poison centers that are recorded by specially trained and certified health care professionals (2). Information on exposure cases (reports or reported incidents by persons who contact poison centers regarding an exposure to a substance) in NPDS is recorded based on generic codes (a required general identification code for a substance or group of products) and product codes (product-specific codes, often by brand; these are not required upon case intake). Cases involving e-cigarettes were identified using generic codes; brands were identified using product codes. E-cigarette exposure cases were defined as an exposure to e-cigarettes or e-liquids and were examined by age group, exposure route, level of care provided, medical outcome, and product brand. This study was determined as exempt by the FDA Institutional Review Board for Human Subject Protection.§

During April 1, 2022–March 31, 2023, a total of 7,043 e-cigarette exposure cases were reported (Table), representing a 32% increase, from 476 in April 2022 to 630 in March 2023. Among all exposures, 6,074 (87.8%) occurred among children aged <5 years. Inhalation or nasal (4,298; 61.0%) and ingestion or oral (2,818; 40.0%) exposure routes were most common. Overall, 43 (0.6%) e-cigarette exposure cases resulted in hospital admission, and 582 (8.3%) required treatment at a health care facility. A major effectwas experienced in 12 (0.2%) exposure cases and a moderate effect in 133 (1.9%) cases. One reported case resulted in death (a suspected death by suicide of a person ≥18 years). Approximately one half of reported cases resulted in either a minor effect (27.2%) or no reported effect (19.8%); 50.9% of cases were not followed.** Among 342 (4.9%) cases with brand information, the most commonly reported brand was Elf Bar (60.8%), a disposable e-cigarette available in a variety of flavors; monthly cases involving Elf Bar increased from two in April 2022 to 36 in March 2023. More than 90% of Elf Bar exposures were among children aged <5 years.

NPDS relies on voluntary reporting of poisoning exposure cases; thus, the number of cases is likely underreported (3). In addition, because product codes are not required, only a small proportion of e-cigarette exposure cases included information on the brand associated with the exposure.

The number of reported U.S. e-cigarette exposure cases during this 12-month period is approximately double the number reported in 2018 (1). Most of the cases were among children aged <5 years. Among the 5% of cases for which brand was available, Elf Bar, for which sales in the United States have recently increased (4), was reported more often than all the other reported brands combined, with nearly all Elf Bar cases occurring among children aged <5 years.

Continued surveillance is critical to guiding efforts to prevent poisoning exposure associated with e-cigarettes, particularly among young children. Health care providers; the public health community; e-cigarette manufacturers, distributors, sellers, and marketers; and the public should be aware that e-cigarettes have the potential to cause poisoning exposure and are a continuing public health concern (5). Adult e-cigarette users should store their e-cigarettes and e-liquids safely to prevent access by young children.

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