It can be bought on the Internet in flavors like chocolate and bubble gum—and just a teaspoon could kill a child: The New York Times takes a look at liquid nicotine, the e-liquid used in e-cigarettes, which it describes as a "powerful neurotoxin ... far more dangerous than tobacco." And with good reason: Reports of accidental liquid nicotine poisonings rose 300% from 2012 to 1,351 cases last year, with 2014's figure expected to be double that. The victims, many children under the age of four, can experience vomiting and seizures after being exposed to even a modest amount orally or through the skin. The Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the bottles often convey their flavors with potentially enticing photos of fruits or chocolate, which could attract youngsters; teens, on the flip side, may be combining it with energy drinks to get high, per Fox News Insider.
"It's not a matter of if a child will be seriously poisoned or killed. It's a matter of when," says a director with California's Poison Control System. "This is one of the most potent naturally occurring toxins we have. One tablespoon could kill an adult." And it's an unregulated toxin (bottles, for instance, don't have to be childproof), sold legally to anyone with a reusable e-cigarette. That "reusable" part may be a factor in the rise of poisonings; the Times points out that at their introduction, e-cigarettes were largely disposable. Now they're more commonly reusable devices that owners fill with the e-liquid, a mix of nicotine, flavorings, and solvents, and the CEO of one e-cigarette franchise predicts as much as 2 million liters of the liquid will be sold in the US this year. Most contain nicotine levels in the 1.8% to 2.4% range, which would be unlikely to kill; but liquids at deadly concentrations—say, 7.2%—are simple to obtain online. (Read more e-cigarettes stories.)