Ohio health officials say more young children are falling ill from e-cigarette exposures

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio health officials are worried about rising e-cigarette exposures among members of the state’s youngest population. The warning comes as Ohioans are voting on an issue to legalize recreational marijuana, including cartridges for vape pens.

Ohio Department of Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff said his concerns lie with children, particularly those ages five or younger, accidentally ingesting or even coming in contact with the liquid in vaporizer cartridges. That liquid can contain anything from nicotine to THC and CBD to artificial flavors—or some mix of those substances.

Generally, Vanderhoff said cigarette and e-cigarette use among of-age and underage Ohioans has trended downward in recent years, even though the state’s adult smoking rate sits higher than the national average. Middle schoolers’ use of vape products dropped from 11.9% in 2019 to 9% in 2021, and high schoolers’ use dropped from 29.8% in 2019 to 20% in 2021, an Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed.

That coincided, however, with more of these exposure incidents, which have resulted in contact with one of Ohio’s poison centers. “There is still much work to be done,” Vanderhoff said.

Since 2015, the state’s centers have documented 1,762 incidents—and 70% of those were under 5. An exposure can result in nausea and vomiting, increased heart rate, and in extreme cases, seizures, said Hannah Hays, Central Ohio Poison Center medical director and Nationwide Children’s chief of toxicology.

“Children tend to mimic their environment,” Hays said. “There are children, in all of the acute poisoning studies, who then will later access a vape and will smoke or vape from it because that’s what they’ve seen adults do.”

Hays recommended storing vaporizer cartridges and pens out of reach—such as not putting them in a purse. To avoid the liquid coming in contact with a child’s skin, it’s best that they don’t handle the product at all, Hays said.

The state’s warning also comes less than three weeks from Election Day, when Ohioans will decide whether to legalize adult use of recreational marijuana, including THC through cartridges. Gov. Mike DeWine—who is staunchly against Issue 2—has argued cannabis legalization still sends the wrong message to children.

But proponents say that allowing, and thus regulating, of-age use will not affect underage use.