TAMPA — The electronic cigarette industry is growing quickly, prompting concerns about product safety, especially the risk of children ingesting vials of liquid nicotine used in the devices.
The bottles have enticing names like Naked Peach, Juicy Juice and Banana Split, which critics say can attract children who might mistake the bottles for candy.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, along with several other senators, is calling for regulation of the small bottles. Nelson introduced a bill this week — the Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act of 2014 — that would direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission to require safer, child-resistant packaging for any liquid nicotine sold to consumers.
"If we childproof other medicines, like Tylenol (and) aspirin, why in the world wouldn't we do this?" Nelson said Friday at a Tampa news conference.
The nicotine comes in a potent liquid form with varying concentrations, referred to by manufacturers as "e-liquids." Small amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting, seizures and even be lethal.
So far this year, there have been more than 1,500 calls nationwide to poison control centers regarding liquid nicotine exposure. That's on pace to double last year's total, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
E-cigarettes have recently exploded in popularity partly because they're marketed as being safer than regular cigarettes, free of harmful chemicals. These bottles usually contain nicotine, solvents and flavoring. But because little research has been done on these battery-operated devices, consumers can't be entirely sure of what they're inhaling, Dr. Maximo Luque, director of the pediatric emergency center at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, said at the news conference.
The Food and Drug Administration plans to implement guidelines on the currently unregulated e-cigarettes and e-liquids. When asked if e-cigarette manufacturers have pushed back against the childproof requirement, Nelson said he hasn't heard any opposition. But he expects that to change when the government tries to regulate e-cigarette television advertisements like it does for tobacco.
"It seems like we've seen this movie before with tobacco and cigarettes," Nelson said.
Some e-cigarette companies have acted ahead of the regulation. Moon Mountain Vapor, an e-cigarette store in Brandon, already sells its e-liquid in childproof and tamper-evident bottles because it seemed like "the smart thing to do," said Jim Bowen, the company's general manager.
E-liquid can be bought from Moon Mountain Vapor in varying strengths up to 2.4 percent nicotine, and is sold in bottles ranging in size from 12 ml to 120 ml.
White Cloud Electronic Cigarettes in Tarpon Springs wanted to steer clear from selling e-liquid in vials because of the risk of accidental consumption or tampering, said Rob Burton, the director of corporate and regulatory affairs. Instead, its customers buy replaceable e-liquid cartridges that can't be opened.
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"We don't like the idea of people tampering with the products," Burton said.
Contact Liz Crampton at email@example.com or (813)-226-3401. Follow @liz_crampton.