Calls to U.S. poison centers resulting from exposure to e-cigarette chemicals have increased rapidly since 2010, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The monthly number of people reporting concerns has risen from just one in September 2010 to 215 in February 2014, mirroring a similar expansion of sales over the same timeframe. Approximately half of all the calls logged by the poison centers were concerning a child under the age of 6 while more than 40 percent involved someone over the age of 20.
The report comes amid increasing concern over the rise of e-cigarettes, especially among young adults. Although the risks of inhaling is still not clear, many U.S. municipalities are moving to curb their use in public places, with bans in place in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago. And last month saw the approval by the European Parliament for stricter regulation, under which advertising would be banned across the EU.
While most calls logged by the poison centers involved accidental ingestion of e-cigarettes or its liquid, about one-sixth of the calls related to inhalation of these items, the report said. Concern over skin and eye exposure were also reported.
"This report raises another red flag about e-cigarettes — the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can be hazardous," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement. "Use of these products is skyrocketing, and these poisonings will continue."
Calls to poison control centers about e-cigarette exposures were more likely to result in "an adverse health effect" compared to cigarette exposure calls, highlighting the toxic potency of these e-liquids, the report said.
Despite previously aired concern from health groups, e-cigarettes are entirely unregulated by the federal government. In addition, there has been accusations that makers of e-cigarettes are deliberately targeting younger customers, through means of having products with candy and fruit flavors.
The U.S Food and Drug Administration has not fully studied the health impact of e-cigarettes. In addition it says that it is not known if e-cigarettes could lead to young people trying other tobacco products.
The American Lung Association and five other public health groups sent a letter to President Obama earlier this week, requesting that he release a proposed regulation that would grant the FDA authority to begin its oversight of e-cigarettes and e-liquids.
"This study further highlights how important it is that FDA be allowed to begin its work," Edelman Norman H. Edelman, Senior Medical Advisor of the American Lung Association, said. "Once FDA asserts authority over e-cigarettes, it could require packaging and labeling changes that would offer greater protections to children and adults."
Al Jazeera and wire services