They're supposedly a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes. But electronic cigarettes may actually pose a serious danger to others in your home -- especially children, ABC News reports.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in a report released Thursday that the number of phone calls to U.S. poison control centers related to e-cigarette use has increased from just one call per month on average in 2010 to nearly 200 calls per month in early 2014.
"The rise in the numbers of e-cigs related calls to poison centers leads us to view this as a major public health concern," said report author Dr. Kevin Chatham-Stephen, a pediatrician and an epidemiologist with the CDC.
He said that though e-cigarettes comprise less than 2 percent of all tobacco-related sales, they now account for more than 40 percent of poison center calls. More than half of the calls involved children younger than 5 years old.
"This is a very dramatic finding," Chatham-Stephen said.
In January, 7NEWS first reported that the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug center had seen a dramatic increase in the number of Colorado children poisoned by e-cigarettes, whose nicotine-laced liquid can cause serious health hazards, including emergency room visits, seizures and even death.
"It's a very serious problem," Dr. Ken Kulig, a toxicologist with Swedish Medical Center, told 7NEWS reporter Jaclyn Allen. "The toxic dose of nicotine for a child is roughly 30-60 mg, and some of the [e-cigarette] cartridges have 500 mg."
Colorado ER doctors are treating toddlers and preschoolers who sometimes lick the nicotine-laced liquid containers in e-cigarettes or drink the liquid. Children are attracted by kid-friendly flavors such as root beer and bubble gum, Allen reported.
According to the CDC report, most of these emergencies are linked to the liquid nicotine within the e-cigs. If the liquid is released from the cylinder that holds it, the result can be acute nicotine toxicity from direct skin or eye exposure, ingestion, or inhalation.
"Cigarettes are the most dangerous consumer product on the planet, and smokers need to treat e-cigs with considerable caution especially since the product is unregulated," said Dr. Tim MacAfee, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at CDC and contributor to the report.
Those within the e-cigarette industry said concerns are overblown, ABC News reported. Jason Healy, the president of e-cigarette manufacturer Blu-cigs, called the findings in the report "a weak argument" against the devices and is evidence of “an ongoing attack on the e-cigs industry by various anti-smoking groups.”
"The product is for adult smokers, and therefore the responsibility for children’s safety falls on the parents, just like bleaches and prescription medications," Healy said. "The focus should be on parenting and education, and not regulation."
Healy did say, however, that the findings should prompt the e-cig industry to formulate effective child safety measures.