The four-year-old son of an Oklahoma City woman named Ren Gaulrapp recently got into her supply of e-ciagrette juice and went to town. He was vomiting and had to be hospitalised, becoming the latest statistic in an apparent rash of of e-juice poisonings. He recovered fully.
This was just after a New York Times story had pointed out that there were 1,351 cases of some form of poisoning linked to e-juice in 2013, and that this constitutes a 300 percent increase from 2012. With respect to noticeability, it helped that the article carried the headline "Selling Poison by the Barrel."
It's possible that the Gaulrapp poisoning case was not notable for anything other than timing, but her account is a little strange. Gaulrapp told her local news station, “I hear a little bit of a noise, come in and he’s taken the lid off of all of them and has this liquid everywhere. He’s got it all over him. He’s been eating it." It's odd that there'd be enough around for him to take the lids off "all of them," and that they were accessible in the first place. Not to mention the child's ravenous appetite for a toxic chemical, although Gaulrapp mentioned that it was sweet.
Screencap via News 4 San Antonio
I recently asked medical toxicologist Dr. Cyrus Rangan about e-cigarette juice. "It does have kind of a palatable taste," he told me, referring to propylene glycol, the additive that produces the vapour effect. But it's the nicotine that likely does all of the poisoning. "The amount that’s in these e-cigarette preparations is hard to say, because there’s really not enough study on these issues to know exactly how much propylene glycol someone’s going to be exposed to by smoking these things, or being around someone who’s smoking them."
On one hand, maybe e-cigarette smokers are their own worst enemies and don't deserve to have nice things. It's not that hard to keep delicious e-juice away from children, or to just opt for child-proof containers. A Gizmodo article by Mario Aguilar made it clear that child-proofing is common.
Ren Gaulrapp. Screencap via Mankato Local CBS News
On the other hand, e-juice poisoning isn't a menace that should have America spooked. The cabinet under every American's sink contains enough poison to take down the Incredible Hulk. There are plenty of other tasty poisons like antifreeze, which poisons more people than nicotine annually. According to the nutbags who are scared of fluoride, even fluoridated toothpaste directly poisons about 1,000 kids per year, compared to nicotine's 1,351. I don't know whether this shows me that fluoride is deceptively dangerous or nicotine is surprisingly harmless.
But even if e-juice isn't as dangerous as all this sensationalism suggests, e-cigarettes have a huge controversy attached to them, and the media seems to be latching onto every sensational headline about e-cigarettes they can find. So for the type of social libertarians gunning for blanket legalization of all the fun substances, nicotine is a case study in letting the user be in control of the drug – 1,351 poisonings is a crummy-sounding record for a new kind of poison just reaching the market.
The Man may be coming down unnecessarily on e-cigarettes, and it may not be fair, but the users of these products could maybe try advocating for themselves through their actions. They could be extra, extra responsible and call for regulations that require, say, that repulsive flavours be added to the liquid, or that child-proofing and boring, kid-unfriendly packaging be made a rule.
But try and tell vaping enthusiasts what to do. People who smoke in movie theaters are rebels who don't need us telling them how not to poison their kids, man.
Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter