True story: child poisoned by DIY nicotine

Will careless or stupid vapers be the worst enemy we have?

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Don't blame the messenger

It may not take evil regulators or uncaring lawmakers to kill vaping. Vapers may be perfectly able to do it all by themselves.

How? Well, for example, by putting DIY nicotine in, say, a child’s medicine bottle, not removing the medicine label from the bottle, and leaving it in the refrigerator where it’s found by the other parent and given to a six-year-old child with a sprained ankle.

Yeah. That actually happened.

Luckily, the father immediately called an ambulance and got the child to an emergency room within 30 minutes, where the doctors did an excellent job. After the little girl was released from the hospital — after being intubated, sedated with Fentanyl, and force-fed activated charcoal — the emergency doctors wrote the story up for the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Which is exactly what they should have done. I would have written it up too. Frankly, if there are vapers reading this who are upset with the doctors for telling the story, rather than at the stupidity and negligence shown by the parents of this poor kid, I don’t want to meet them.

Coming soon to a press conference near you

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Now that the child has recovered, and the case study has been written, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP, which publishes Annals) has put the story into a lovely press release — soon to be a hot topic among all of your favorite extremist anti-vaping zealots.

Frankly, the press release isn’t that bad, considering the horrific event. The only questionable part of the narrative is the strength of the nicotine mix that caused the near-tragedy. The mother claimed she had diluted the original nicotine base to 30 milligrams-per-milliliter, but the authors tested the liquid in the medicine bottle and found it to be 70.3 mg/ml. They draw the unlikely conclusion that the nicotine as sold by the vendor was more than twice as strong as it was supposed to be, when the far more likely explanation is that it wasn’t diluted at all, as the mother claimed it had been. But that’s a minor point.

Wait till you see the results of a child drinking 500 mg/ml nicotine.

It’s certain that this case study will result in outcry from politicians and public health officials. Much of it will be from the usual opportunistic hacks that cash in politically on every vaping “outrage” (see battery “explosions,” the gateway to smoking, epidemic of teenage vaping, etc.). But some of it will stick.

And maybe it should stick. If vapers can be as stupid as these people were, we can expect some special attention to be paid to the DIY world. And if DIY nicotine is seriously restricted, what will happen after the deeming clock hits midnight?

Here’s what will happen: some will quit using nicotine altogether, many will return to smoking, and a few will try to beat the rules by importing really strong nicotine. Wait till you see the results of a child drinking 500 mg/ml nicotine. There probably won’t be time for a trip to the hospital.

Tell your mixing friends

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We need to do everything in our power to prevent events like the one described in this paper. There’s no reason any child should have to visit the emergency room — or worse — because of DIY mistakes.

What can DIY e-liquid makers (and all vapers) do to avoid poison risks in homes where children live or visit?

  • Keep all liquids locked up and out of sight. Small children will eat or drink anything they can get a hold of
  • Mark all bottles properly. Any mix with nicotine in it should be marked “POISON,” and never reuse a bottle meant for another purpose
  • Never keep liquids containing nicotine in bottles without child-resistant caps
  • Don’t mix liquid with children present, and never leave the mixing area while bottles are open
  • Speak to children about vapor products. Explain that e-liquid tastes awful and can make them very sick
  • Learn about good DIY practices from experts before you start mixing. There are lots of sources, including the DIY forums at ECF and Reddit

The future

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The case study’s authors are correct that incidents with consumer nicotine mixing will become more common, but they’re wrong about the reasons. The FDA’s deeming nightmare guarantees that probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of inexperienced vapers will buy nicotine and mix their own e-liquid.

Any vaper considering DIY e-liquid needs to first spend some time learning proper procedures, and they need to use common sense, and follow basic safety precautions. But look around. Do you know any vapers who are stupid enough to put nicotine in a Motrin bottle with kids in the house? I do.

Every vaper who cares about the future of vaping needs to ask their friends who DIY about how they handle the safety issues. Because the people who don’t understand how important this issue is to all of us are the ones who are going to cause us all to go back to smoking. I don’t want to smoke anymore. But I don’t want to see kids dying because of vaping either.

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Jim McDonald
I spend most of my time studying the regulatory, legislative and scientific challenges to vaping, advocating for our right to exist, and talking with others who do the same. Consider me a source for information, and feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say. I love good coffee and sweet Michigan cherries. My childhood hero was Gordie Howe.