Vaping and the availability of e-cigarettes and other nicotine products are behind a rise in calls to the national Poisons Information Centre, accident prevention authorities have warned.  

SA Health data shared by child accident prevention group Kidsafe SA reveals the number of nicotine-related calls from South Australians to the Poison Information Centre rose to 78 last year, compared to 53 in 2022.

The bulk of those calls related to vaping products, while the biggest contributor to the jump was in children under the age of five, with 41 reported exposures to e-cigarette liquids and devices in that age bracket.

“[Parents] were calling because they had noticed that their child had in their hands either a vape device or the vape liquid or a cigarette butt,” Kidsafe SA CEO Holly Fitzgerald said.

“It is a frightening thought that young children continue to be getting their hands on these products and the results can be catastrophic.”

A warning released by Kidsafe, which has launched a new campaign.(Kidsafe)

Of the total number of reported cases, eight involved children being taken or referred to hospital, and more than 30 involved fears children had swallowed, not just inhaled, nicotine substances.

“More nicotine-type products are coming onto the market, and that is a real concern … from a child safety and injury prevention perspective,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“The nicotine products are often flavoured, they smell really nice, they’re colourful and bright.

“We know that vape devices are very much like that so, they are very attractive to young children … if they do get their hands on a nicotine device such as a vape or vape liquid, they’ll often imitate their parents and put it in their mouth.”

In 2018, an 18-month-old child died in Victoria after consuming “the substance his mother had been mixing with vape juice for an e-cigarette”, the state’s Coroners Court reported at the time.

“Baby J’s mother found him with an open bottle of the highly toxic liquid in his mouth, after she had inadvertently turned her attention from the child to put some bottles of vape juice away,” court authorities said following the inquest.

Holly Fitzgerald says potentially deadly products continue to enter the market.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

Ms Fitzgerald said the tragedy highlighted the urgent need for better awareness of the dangers, and that Kidsafe SA was launching a new campaign with that aim in mind.

“The South Australian Poison Information Centre calls are consistent with what other states and territories are finding in terms of the increased number of nicotine exposures and young children,” she said.

“You should treat your nicotine products like you would any other poison.

“They need to be locked up high and out of the way.”

Kidsafe said any parent who feared their child had put nicotine in their mouth or on their skin should ring the 24-hour Poisons Information Centre immediately on 13 11 26 — but in emergencies, such as those in which children had collapsed or were not breathing should urgently call triple-0 (000) for an ambulance first.

Risk of ‘copying adult behaviours’

Recent moves to crack down on the availability of e-cigarettes include last week’s joint statement from state and territory ministers calling on federal parliament to pass bans on the import, manufacture and sale of vapes.

Earlier this year, more than 13 tonnes of disposable vapes were intercepted in Adelaide, where public vaping bans have been extended to areas around schools, shopping centres, beaches, buildings and sporting grounds.

Tough new smoking laws introduced in Queensland last year allowed that state’s health authorities to stamp down on vapes, seizing more than 40,000 of them.

SA Health has expressed support for Kidsafe’s campaign.

The SA government has moved to stamp down on illegal vapes.(ABC News: Rory McClaren)

Its executive director of health protection and regulation, Chris Lease, said parents should be aware that nicotine poisoning was potentially fatal.

“Symptoms can range from nausea, vomiting and seizures to cardiac and respiratory failure,” Dr Lease said.

“It is important to avoid smoking cigarettes and vaping in front of toddlers to reduce the risk of them copying adult behaviours.

“As with any product that contains nicotine, e-cigarette vaporisers, equipment and liquids, nicotine gum, lozenges, mist, patches, inhalers, cigarettes and tobacco must be stored securely and out of reach of children.”

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