The average vaper has little chance of overdosing on nicotine. As long as you aren’t abusing the products or using them unsafely, you have nothing to worry about.
The big risk is of somebody ingesting nicotine-containing e-liquid. Vapers should take steps to keep e-liquids out of reach of children and pets – much as they would with other potentially dangerous household products like bleach and laundry detergent. But on the whole, nicotine-containing e-liquids are safe.
Nicotine poisoning from vaping
Research shows that smokers and vapers ‘self-titrate’ their nicotine intake. This means that they adjust how much they smoke or vape in line with how they are feeling.
Similarly, if a vaper has too much nicotine and starts to feel sick or experiences vertigo, they will stop or slow down their nicotine intake before they feel the more serious effects of nicotine poisoning.
The same thing happens with coffee. If you weigh 154 pounds, drinking 70 coffees could kill you. But even the biggest java junkie would stop drinking coffee when they started seeing new colours or feeling dizzy.
If a non-smoker with no tolerance to nicotine has ever asked to try your vape, the nicotine could make them feel light-headed. But it won’t do them any harm as long as they don’t keep on vaping.
You can also take too much nicotine accidentally. If you use an e-liquid with too much nicotine in it then you will probably feel sick far more quickly.
If you use a high-powered box mod you need to make sure you use a lower strength e-liquid. These box mods vaporize more juice with each puff, so anything over around 6mg/ml will probably be too much.
If you have switched from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes, it’s unlikely you will get more nicotine from vaping compared with cigarettes.
This is because of differences in how nicotine is absorbed. Cigarettes give you a more upfront, powerful blast of nicotine, but with e-cigs, your body absorbs the nicotine more slowly.
With all this being said, however, the number of e-cigarette related poisonings is on the rise. This is mainly due to accidental ingestion of nicotine containing e-liquid.
Ingesting e-liquid can be dangerous
CDC data reveals that the number of calls to poison centers concerning nicotine e-liquid increased from one in September 2010 to 215 in February 2014.
More than half of the calls to poison centers concerned children under the age of five. Primarily, they were due to someone ingesting the e-liquid.
While it is very difficult to overdose on nicotine containing e-liquid by vaping it, drinking it is another matter.
Very few cases of nicotine poisoning result in death or the need for serious hospital treatment. Research also suggests that some of the claims about how much nicotine it would take to kill someone are exaggerated, but exposure to e-liquid can still be dangerous.
From September 1, 2010 to December 31, 2014, there were at least 5,970 e-cigarette related calls to US poison control centers.
Callers reported a variety of ill health effects including vomiting, eye irritation and nausea. Five callers reported major health effects like respiratory failure and there were two deaths associated with e-liquid nicotine poisoning.
To combat the trend in e-liquid related nicotine poisonings, the federal government passed a bill in 2016 to introduce child-proof packaging on all e-liquid packaging.
But it should also be noted that these figures put e-liquids on par with many other products you may have lying around the house.
Any substance can be toxic if you eat, drink or absorb too much of it. Even too much water can kill you.
So it is important to view these statistics with context.
Exposure to bleaches, laundry detergents and even ink pens all resulted in more calls to poison control in the United States – many of them more serious than e-liquid exposures.
This point was also recognised by Public Health England, which carried out a landmark evidence review on e-cigarettes. They said that there is a risk “of poisoning from ingestion of e-liquids. These risks appear to be comparable to similar […] potentially poisonous household substances.”
They concluded that when used as intended, e-cigarettes pose no risk of nicotine poisoning to their users.
What to do if you or your child ingests e-liquid
In an emergency, call the free and confidential Poison Control HELP number – 1-800-222-1222.