With poisonings rising among children exposed to liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman Tuesday announced a crackdown on retailers who've sold the product without child-resistant packaging.
Schneiderman named four companies that have violated the state's law requiring childproof containers and said that his office had reached an agreement with them. He identified them as Henley Vaporium and Beyond Vape, which have retail outlets in New York City. The other two, Rocket Sheep and ECig Distributors Inc., sell liquid nicotine online to e-cig users and retailers in New York.
"Liquid nicotine is highly toxic and must be sold in child-resistant packaging," Schneiderman said. "Today, we are taking action against four companies, and putting others on notice: Stop selling liquid nicotine in anything but child-resistant containers, or we will come after you" and shut you down.
All of the companies were required to cease sales of products that do not contain childproof containers. Schneiderman referred to e-liquids as "a whole new public health menace."
"This is a fight that will be with us for a number of years," he said.
Schneiderman pointed to the case of an 18-month-old toddler in upstate Montgomery County who accidentally ingested liquid e-cig nicotine in December and died. He said the liquids come in fanciful containers and flavors that are attractive to youngsters who have no way of knowing that the cherry, chocolate and bubble gum liquids can be deadly.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that last year there were more than 3,700 calls to their centers nationwide because of liquid nicotine exposures. Those calls represent a sharp jump over previous years and half of them involved the poisonings of children under age 5, data presented at the news conference showed.
Childproof containers for e-cig liquids became state law in December, Schneiderman said, and immediately afterward, his Tobacco Compliance and Health Care bureaus initiated an investigation to gauge compliance. State investigators bought liquid nicotine from retailers across New York, as well as from online sellers.
The probe revealed those retailers who sold bottles of liquid nicotine without packaging protections.
The attorney general's crackdown on the electronic cigarette industry comes as policymakers worldwide are discussing how best to deal with a product that now outsells conventional cigarettes.
Moreover, many Big Tobacco companies have entered the e-cig industry or are testing the possibility of doing so. R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co., for instance, makes an e-cig called Vuse.
Tuesday in the British Medical Journal, European public health experts pointed to e-cigarettes as a product that mimics conventional smoking. They also said there was no scientific evidence that e-cigs help smokers quit, a claim widely touted by e-cigarette sellers.
Here at home, Michael Davoli, director of the American Cancer Society's Action Network, the organization's advocacy arm, told the Schneiderman news conference that medical research has yet to reveal the full spectrum of exposures that can occur by inhaling e-cigarette vapors.
"We look at everything through a cancer lens," Davoli said Tuesday, noting that one-third of all cancers in New York are smoking-related, he said referring to conventional tobacco products.
"E-cigs and their exploding growth is a story that I'd like to say we have never seen before, but it is a story that we have seen," he said, citing the extraordinary growth of cigarette usage in the 20th century, which led to one of the most devastating and long-running epidemics of lung cancer in global history.