23 Aug 2023

National Poison Centre data reveals hundreds of children potentially harmed by vape products

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 23 August 2023

Hundreds of New Zealand children are potentially being poisoned by vapes, and the number of exposures are increasing dramatically every year.

The National Poisons Centre says since 2017, it has received more than 500 calls about children under the age of five relating to nicotine exposure, and that 2023 is on track to be the worst year on record.

The centre's data reveals that nicotine toxins may have been inhaled or ingested by 82 babies younger than one year old.

The largest single age group who may have accidentally been poisoned by vaping liquid are toddlers aged between one and two, with 267 children exposed in that age group, representing about a third of the exposures.

The centre's clinical toxicologist and deputy director Dr Bill Boroughf told Checkpoint young children were being exposed to nicotine liquid when they found a discarded cartridge, or when someone refilled their e-cigarette.

"It's certainly a concerning trend. As you know, kids sort of are grabby little things and like to get into everything. They're very curious, and so it's not sort of unexpected that as the rate of availability of vaping products increases in the region, so too is the risk of exposure."

Boroughf said the biggest concern was when nicotine was ingested and that just a few drops could be life-threatening to children, and potentially cause vomiting and breathing problems.

Children were at higher risk because they were smaller and weighed less.

"They can have sort of lethargy and stupor that can develop, they can get weak and then they can also develop respiratory paralysis, which could, you know, obviously then lead to other major significant effects, including death".

Young man with vape, vaping, blowing a vape cloud.

Dr Bill Boroughf says some devices are riskier than others, and it is important that adults are aware of the dangers of their vapes (file image). Photo: Unsplash / Tbel Abuseridze

Boroughf was also concerned that the strength of the nicotine liquids that pre-schoolers were being exposed to was also on the rise.

Last year the largest number of calls about children consuming vape liquids were about the strongest vapes.

Boroughf said some devices were riskier than others, but it was important that adults were aware of the dangers of their vapes.

"I think advice to families and whānau is really one to make sure you treat the vape systems like you would any pharmaceutical."

Vapes and refills should be kept out of reach of children and not kept in handbags and nightstands, he said.

Stricter rules

New regulations coming into force on 21 September mean that vapes will need child safety mechanisms. Checkpoint asked the minister of health's office for clarification on what that would mean.

From March next year there is supposed to be new rules substantially lowering the maximum concentration of nicotine allowed in in vapes. However, Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall confirmed there was a legal challenge being taken by the vaping industry.

As the matter is currently before the Courts, the minister would not comment further.